The fashionable shape in new plays this year must be the classic triangle, with a twist. Hard on the heels of Adam Rapp’s Red Light Winter comes Neena Beber’s Jump/Cut, which, like Rapp’s play, deals with two guys and a gal in a seemingly closed-off situation. Like Rapp, Beber pours a lot of tender, well-sustained writing into this familiar matrix. Her grotty details are less nakedly grim, her characters better grounded in reality, but the upshot is still, as with Rapp, a sense of fresh, heady wine decanted into a familiar old bottle.
The grim twist in Beber’s triangulation is mental illness: Her two men are an aspiring filmmaker (Luke Kirby) and his buddy since childhood (Thomas Sadoski), a hyper-articulate drifter afflicted by severe bipolarity. His stability precariously maintained by pills when he remembers to take them, the drifter camps out on the cinema wannabe’s couch, crimping the latter’s evolving relationship with a super-smart but deeply insecure female grad student (Michi Barall). When she moves in too, trouble clearly looms ahead, though Beber inventively dodges most of its more predictable variants: Part of her ingenuity is to place the story inside the video documentary the filmmaker shoots in an effort to get his bipolar bud off the couch, so that on the road to the tragic climax we get scenes repeated, deleted, edited, or cut short when the camera’s abruptly switched off, plus a fairly rich interweave of troubling ideas about artists versus their subjects, documentary versus reality, and the pervasive ways media consciousness alters our lives.
Leigh Silverman’s coolly swift direction gets a strong performance from Kirby and a hauntingly powerful one from Sadoski, but makes one odd mistake, pushing Barall to render the heroine, in weaker moments, as a nattering ditz, which suits neither the role as written nor the actress’s own appealing persona.