Mistaken identities and star-crossed lovers have served as fallow fields for playwrights since Shakespearean times, and yet few plays have mishandled these timeless elements of romantic comedy as the tragically bad “On the Jump,” which is currently jerking itself around Arena Stage like a badly sewn-together Frankenstein.
Little Colleen Ferguson (Andrea Anders) has had bad luck with men ever since she was five, and father fell off the edge of the Grand Canyon. We meet her on her wedding night just as her new hubby is making an early exit, pausing only long enough to pocket her paltry life savings. Abandoned, broke, crestfallen and drunk, she wanders the streets until she comes to a bridge – a clever piece of set-design by Aexander Dodge – and prepares to make that leap of disillusionment.
Sadly, “On the Jump” is no short-form tragedy, and Colleen is stopped by the sight of a young man preparing to leap on the other side of the bridge. Her cry of “stop” surprises him, causing him to fall off into space. Now responsible for the death of a stranger, Colleen decides she might just as well steal the coat he left on the bridge. In one of its pockets, she finds his cell phone and uses it to find out his name: Albert Wheatcroft III. Still dressed only in her wedding-night negligee and Albert’s coat, she goes to the address that matches his last name to inform his relatives of his assisted suicide.
The Wheatcrofts are of course a hideously, stereotypically wealthy old couple, complete with the requisite butler who, in the play’s one small mercy, does not have a British accent. Albert-number-three’s grandparents – his father Albert II also jumped to his death – have not heard from their grandson in a long while and so naturally assume this poor, underdressed wench is the wife of their dear, departed progeny.
In keeping with the ludicrous plot arrangements, they insist she come live with them. Faced with the alternative of returning to her life as a “taxi dancer” – a politely named type of exotic dancer – or living in luxury, she makes the obvious choice and in no time is bringing new life into the aging couple’s weary, financially secure lives.
It may appear that this review has focused only on plot rather than on character development, but this is only in keeping with the play. “On the Jump” allows the characters to reveal as little as possible, assuming that the audience should know these stock faces from other plays, books and stories they have appeared in. Rather than waste time fleshing out roles, the play chooses to waste its time with the sort of bottom-of-the-barrel shtick that would make Mel Brooks blush, allowing the plot to tumble predictably – although absurdly – together along the way.
It should come as no surprise that Colleen soon finds herself falling in love with the lost, troubled Albert through a series of letters he wrote to an imaginary childhood playmate named “Roxanne.” These letters, read aloud by David Barlow (as Albert III) with dramatic posturing worthy of a high school production of “Hamlet,” are soon published thanks to Colleen’s efforts.
But she remains unfulfilled and her soul soon leads her back to back bridge, where she finds out the answer to the age-old question: did Albert III really fall to his death, or did he just fall into a diner oh-so-ironically called Cafe Limbo located directly underneath the bridge? Those of you who are lucky will never have to know.