Monday, March 2, 2015

Off-Broadway Theater Review: John and Jen

Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan Photo: Carol Rosegg

A Sweet Musical About Love and Letting Go
By Lauren Yarger
The more I thought about it, the more I liked the sweet little musical John and Jen, getting a rare revival Off-Broadway by Keen Company at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row in New York City.

The early work by Andrew Lippa (with lyrics by Tom Greenwald who partnered with Lippa on the book) follows the relationship between Jen (the beautifully voiced Kate Baldwin who wowed us in Broadway’s revival of Finian’s Rainbow) and her brother and son, both named John (and both played by relative newcomer Conor Ryan).

The story, told mostly in song (with Greenwald’s insightful and moving lyrics almost forming a libretto), is set amidst changing times in America from 1952 to 1990 (on a minimal set designed by Steven Kemp).  In 1952 a 6-year-old Jen is presented with a baby brother and she immediately loves him. The two become close and Jen protects him from the abusive father he idolizes.

We follow them through childhood as they play, tease each other, share secrets and suffer typical sibling moments growing up together. Jen feels an intensifying need to escape their home, however, and college provides an opportunity. She goes off to Columbia and embraces the free living there. She becomes involved with a guy and organizes protests against the Viet Nam War, eventually moving away to Canada.

Meanwhile, John joins up to impress his father and is killed in action. A pregnant Jen copes with the loss of her brother by making her son his namesake. She returns home a single mom, still avoiding contact with her father. Jen relieves memories of her brother and talks with him at graveside about her son, of whom she is overly protective. She lost one John. She isn’t going to lose the other.

Unfortunately, the similarities between the men don’t stop there. She expects her son to love baseball and to take on other aspects of his uncle’s personality. This, and young John’s desire to spend time with his grandfather, cause tension in the mother-son relationship.

The themes of sibling love, of loss, of love between a mother and son and of letting go all play out in a story that is touching, humorous and very satisfying. The music from Lippa ((The Wild Party, The Addams Family), musical directed by Lily Ling, doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling which allows the characters to develop fully into characters about whom we care a lot.  

Director Jonathan Silverstein (Keen Company’s Artistic Director) skillfully creates a visual world with little set or prop enhancement and Ryan transitions fully between the two characters (with costume assistance from Designer Sydney Maresca to create two, separate, complex characters. He and Baldwin have natural rapport on stage. If you are a mother or a sister, you will choke up.

This 20th anniversary production includes the premiere of a new song, “Trouble with Men.”  The show originally played Off-Broadway in 1995.

John and Jen plays at the Clurman Theatre, 410 West 42nd St., NYC through through April 4. Tuesday- Thursday at 7 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets: $68-$85 http://keencompany.org.

Christians might also like to know:
-- No content notes. Enjoy.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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