‘Jump’ has its ups and downs at Actor’s Express

Suicidal thoughts weigh heavily on more than one character in Charly Evon Simpson’s drama “Jump.” Most obviously, the play’s title alludes to how often they find themselves “walking the bridge” in their unnamed city, frequently gazing into the waters below and contemplating matters of life and death.

There, unlikely potential soul mates Fay and Hopkins meet sad and make small talk. “I’ve been better,” she tells him. “I’ve been worse,” he replies. Which one of them could represent the other’s “guardian angel” is open to interpretation.

In another sense, Simpson’s title also hints at her play’s nonlinear structure. At first, Fay’s grieving the recent death of her mother from cancer, but by the time she starts seeing periodic flashes of bright lights, it’s fairly clear that the story is jumping between present-day reality and remembrances of things past, involving her older sister, Judy, and their father.

That interesting narrative tactic occasionally yields somewhat disjointed results in director Lydia Fort’s modest staging for Actor’s Express. (It’s a rolling world premiere presented under the auspices of the National New Play Network, in conjunction with additional productions of the show at theaters in Portland, Oregon, Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Austin, Texas.)

Even at a succinct and casually paced 90-odd minutes, a couple of scenes feel unnecessarily exaggerated or needlessly protracted. In the opening sequence, Fay tosses her vaping device over the bridge, only to catch it again when it mysteriously falls into her hands from the sky above–not once or twice, but five or six times in a row, essentially telegraphing and slightly diminishing the magical impact of the play’s final moments.

When, early on, she and Hopkins cut loose in an impromptu dance to Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” the scene isn’t exactly overlong, but it’s certainly overzealous. Nevermind what a curious choice of music it is to begin with, as an anthem of sorts for two characters who are thinking about or dealing with suicide. (Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” would seem more appropriate, if not nearly so catchy or easy to dance to.)

Fort’s design team includes Andre C. Allen and Chris Lane, whose respective lighting and sound are suitably moody. Conversely, scenic designer Emmie Finckel’s elongated set leaves something to be desired.

At one end is a bedroom, where Fay and Judy are boxing up their belongings in the process of moving out of the family home, and at the other end is the sitting room where Fay and her father interact. Each side is bracketed by a large girder to suggest the framework of that symbolically imposing bridge, but the stretch of space in between, where so much of the pivotal action unfolds, is rather flimsy.

The show is bolstered by an excellent performance from newcomer Cyrah Hill (a recent Spelman College grad) as Fay, although the script basically limits her to portraying “glimpses” of the character’s deep-rooted behavior. Her best scenes are with Gil Eplan-Frankel (from last fall’s “Reykjavik” at the Express), who holds his own as the likable Hopkins.

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Less effective on opening night were the tentative Gerard Catus as the father, who’s drowning his sorrows in a more figurative way, and the dull Brittani Minnieweather, whose Judy lacks the depth to really substantiate how the role eventually develops.

“Jump” definitely has its heart in the right place, but getting to the bottom of it can be tedious.

THEATER REVIEW

“Jump”

Through June 23. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. $20-$35. Actor's Express (at King Plow Arts Center), 887 W. Marietta St. NW, Atlanta. 404-607-7469. actors-express.com.

Bottom line: Admirably motivated, but unevenly realized.