In the history of parody, some of the greatest achievements come in that showy subgenre, variations on a theme. The bright idea behind Sarah Jones’s solo piece Bridge and Tunnel was to merge this notion with a newer stage genre that you might call Anna Deavere Smith Lite. Jones’s theme is America; her many characters are all immigrants, of varying ages and ethnicities. The occasion is a communal poetry reading: Eager to sing America, for good or ill, these accented folk form a sort of Whitman sampler.
The setup offers opportunities for satire as well as parody, but Jones is gentle on both counts; her empathy with the people she inhabits tends to soften the opposing impulse to ridicule their efforts. Still, she walks this soft center line gracefully, and with remarkable technical skill. The premise of each character getting up to read a poem threatens monotony, a problem Jones solves boldly by artful cheating: She lets figures seize the open mic who have no poem to speak and no intention of writing one, creating, in the process, some of Bridge and Tunnel‘s best moments. Surprisingly unrowdy and unedgy, the show may run on its sweetness and patriotism—the qualities you’d least expect to find in a work with its subject matter and downtown ambience.