You might not be able to notice at first what a charming and sweet-natured play The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow is, because its young production team seems to have been either overly nervous or addicted to MTV. Both Rolin Jones’s script and Jackson Gay’s production are frantically over-busy, with everyone dashing about needlessly and most conversations conducted in a frenetic screech, while the components of Takeshi Kata’s set flap needlessly up and down or from side to side. The whole hyperactive thing cries out for a dose of aesthetic Ritalin. And really, nobody needed to worry so much, because Jones’s script is full of intelligence and compassion as well as charm, and Gay’s production, while not quite up to the script’s high quality, is solidly grounded and stocked with capable actors, so that the story’s increasingly improbable events are made both moving and meaningful, despite all the shrieking and the desperate efforts at razzmatazz. With material this good, there was nothing to get so desperate about.
Jenny Chow is an android, played with touching, subtle impassivity by Eunice Wong in the evening’s best performance. She has been created by youthful computer whiz Jennifer Marcus (Julienne Hanzelka Kim), the adoptive daughter of a hard-driving woman executive and her burned-out spouse, to find and confront Jennifer’s Chinese birth mother. Jennifer herself, afflicted with agoraphobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder, operates entirely by e-mail. While Jennifer’s adventures in cyber-building provoke satiric comedy, complete with stroganoff-accented mad scientist and shifty Pentagon supplier, her struggle with her family problems grows to near tragic proportions. Jones juggles this collision-prone mixture of elements with deftness and a fair degree of wisdom, qualities that are reassuring in a young writer. Even better is the sense he offers that the old human truths can still find application in today’s technologized world, which often seems to be breeding nothing but affectless, well-programmed androids.