In “Jersey Girl,” Bruce Springsteen convincingly moans, “Nothing matters in this whole wide world/When you’re in love with a Jersey girl.” Yet The Penetration Play, a Jersey Shore–set drama, quibbles with this conclusion. Rain (Mandy Siegfried), a clutter of angular limbs and acerbic comments, has harbored a passion for best friend Ashley for the better part of a decade; it’s only made her miserable. Ashley (Mia Barron) isn’t too cheerful herself, as she’s juggling Rain’s ardor and a gropey male suitor. Ashley’s mother, Maggie (Kathryn Grody), negotiates her own complement of fraught relationships. Who knew the Garden State bred such emotional jungles?
Winter Miller’s script, directed by Josh Hecht, unfolds during a summer weekend at Maggie’s beach house. Same-sex attraction aside—or included—it’s a rather conventional setup. Relationships arise and unravel, wine is ingested and secrets disgorged, heartbreak ensues. But the dialogue and direction work against the familiarity of the story—sometimes productively, sometimes awkwardly. Miller’s dialogue flits and jerks, moving from the comic to the maudlin to the nearly poetic in a few lines. Hecht’s direction encourages the scenes and the actors to proceed in keyed-up, stutter-stop rhythms, creating a sort of unnatural naturalism. This anxious mien certainly makes the play more distinctive than most weekends at the shore, but hardly as relaxing.