The Official Adventures of Kieron and Jade, by Kieron Barry. Directed by John Sowle. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"What a whack-job!"
Jason Guy and Bonita Jackson as Kieron and Jade; photo: John Sowle
Author Kieron Barry has a dilemma: can he write, honestly, a play about his own life without changing anything, including everyone's names, and still write an honest play? In 2015 Barry had a bad break-up with his girl-friend, a singer named Jade. It left him with a broken heart, a nervous breakdown and a near tragic mid-life crisis. As he puts it in an author's note in the program, "One of the many under-recognized benefits of such a grand slam is the end of embarrassment, when they're shaving your chest in the ambulance to apply the paddles you note with distant joy that the largeness of your nose is now irrelevant. There are bigger fish to be gutted now."
Gutted is exactly what they are in this play about his life turning inside out and leaving him upside down in a world that doesn't see his problems as problems. Kieron (Jason Guy) and Jade (Bonita Jackson in one of over a dozen roles) have existed in a three year long dry relationship. No sex. Just love and devotion. It's a fact that no one wants to believe, including Jade's best friend, Emma (also Jackson). Kieron writes. Jade makes music. Jade wants the career that Kieron has basically forged but neither of them has hit the top rungs in their fields. So, when after a muscle spasm akin to a seizure Jade walks out, Kieron is both bereft and fit-to-be-tied. He is a man who rants. He is a man who raves. He is a writer whose reality must be filtered through a comedy curtain that splits open every time to show his pain.
Kieron in this play is a character worthy of the great comedy writers of the past century. If the show is indeed autobiographical then Kieron Barry is a man on the verge of greatness for his insights into all of the characters in this play, including Kieron, are deeper than anything achieved by most of the best writers of our time.
John Sowle has achieved another trumphant bi-fecta, directing this world-premiere performance on a set has also designed. The onstage, inverse-raked platform holds the actors securely and also contains all of the props and furnishings necessary to move the story through one location after another. The play is an almost ninety minute one-act that, unlike most single act plays, has no obvious point where an intermission could have been inserted. Instead the play flies forward all the time and one moment seems to securely lead to the next and the next without breaking momentum. Under Sowle's directorial guidance Bonita Jackson transforms from one human entity to another with barely a second to breathe away one persona before encompassing a different one. At the same time Jason Guy maintains the center of play, Kieron, without ever flagging even when sheer exhaustion must be waiting to overtake the actor.
The writing demands rhythm in the playing and this trio has found a tempo that would exhume even a Jerome Robbins dancer, and yet the two actors seem to have no problem keeping things at a high trot all of the time. There are a few moments when the play slows down for an emotional shafting, but before a sigh of relxation can be sighed, the play and its characers are on the run once again.
Jason Guy shifts from tragedy to comedy with alacrity. He paints a picture of this man who fluctuates constantly with a very discreet brush. As Kieron is moved toward self-disintegration Guy keeps us on the edge of our seats almost praying that he won't burst into flames from all of the friction he creates and lives within. For a comedy this is a very serious role, a late Neil Simon role, a man on the brink of self-created madness surviving strife through the determination of the damned. It is a tour-de-force performance of a role that seems to have been written just for him to play.
Jade, Emma, a psychiatrist, a doctor, a nurse, a parent, and others harder to comprehend - all are played by Bonita Jackson with lighting changes of accent, hair style, posture, movement and vocal qualities. This is a grand old-time radio performance, in truth, with every character completely discernable through the voice alone. However when you add the amazing physical dynamics she plays with each character it is though a large company of actors is working the small Bridge Street stage. Her is a name to remember for after this amount of incredible work you can believe that there are no roles outside her range, nothing is impossible and I want to be certain that I see her whenever I can. She literally and impractically give 250% in this play.
Sound Designer Carmen Borgia is a great help with her sound design and there are some visual elements that help to keep the play focused, if you can remember what they were when they're mentioned later on. Kieron Barry, the playwright, is clearly a madman but the sort you'd like to have to dinner, as long as his car was standing by to whisk him away once again. This new work is an undiluted triumph and Bridge Streeet Theatre has a hit on its hands. Hopefully people will discover the play and keep it alive for as long as possible.
Jason Guy and Bonita Jackson as Kieron and Emma; photo: John Sowle
Bonita Jackson and Jason Guy; photo: John Sowle
The Official Adventures of Kieron and Jade plays at the Bridge Street Theater, 44 W. Bridge Street, Catskill, NY through April 30. For tickets call 800-838-3006 or go to brownpapertickets.com. For information visit bridgestreettheatre.org or call 518-943-3818.