Saw Sarah Jones doing her Bridge and Tunnel thing last night at the Berkeley Rep. She’s a virtuostic performer, clearly–she transforms effortlessly into different characters with a ridiculously flexible physical and vocal instrument. She has amazing control, self-possession, and her stage presence, rolling off her body with a single head-tilt or scarf-flick, rocks houses of hundreds.
Unfortunately, Bridge and Tunnel never rose to the level of Ms. Jones’ talents. And so, sadly, the production ended up not being about the immigrants whose stories Ms. Jones purports to represent and honor, but about Sarah Jones’ virtuosity, her ability to whip through 14 different nationalities’ accents at the drop of a jacket.
Part of the problem was the format. In Bridge and Tunnel, a group of immigrants, who had originally found each other over a chat room, come together for an annual poetry reading in Queens. They all come forward and read a poem, or tell a story–most of the time, quite briefly. We weren’t allowed to get to know any of the characters too well–barring a Mexican union-organizer and a Chinese mother-turned-gay-marriage-activist–the evening was not so much a revelation of the immigrant experience through a collage of rich characterizations, but instead a revue, skating over pretty well-known tropes about the immigrant experience in America. (I can’t even remember the characters’ names–it’s not surprising that people just refer to them as “the Vietnamese guy” or “the Jamaican woman.”)
The prodution never coalesced–the pieces never added up. We saw no conflict–between characters, within characters, or against anyone other than the faceless Opressor. Even though all the characters were in the same room, we saw little to no drama happening onstage.
It was a feel good show, and didn’t make us have to think too hard, or work too hard, or face ourselves, or challenge us. The Berkeley audiences ate it up, and went home feeling great about Sarah Jones, and about themselves. “Did you see how her hands shook as the old Jewish lady, while she still managed to keep talking?” Yeah, I did. I heard Surface Transit was better–but I doubt she’ll revive it. Bridge and Tunnel is going to Broadway.