Occasionally there is an actor who is so suited for her role that you immediately suspect that the part was written for her. In the role of Sara Jane, in the world premiere of Victor Lodato’s Dear Sara Jane, the remarkable Joey Parsons inhabits every cubic inch of this anxious young woman’s fears, misgivings, fantasies and desparate desire to please. It is a bravura performance, as Parsons melds Sara Jane’s tics, confessional humor and barely concealed lusts into a character you will instantly recognize, even if you’ve never met anyone like her in your life.
And there is Sara Jane’s sister Linnie. She is a rage-filled schizophrenic, swinging between the institution and life with her intolerant, self-absorbed mother. Linnie is fierce, angry and fearless – someone who “lets all (her) nuts hang out.” The actor who plays this free-base freak also seems ideally suited for the role. Her name is … Joey Parsons. Holy cow.
Although the principal virtue of Dear Sara Jane is that it shows off the talents of the astonishing Parsons, Lodato has crafted a fine story. With surgically precise timing, Lodato has a reluctant Sara Jane reveal the secrets behind her fears about her husband Jerry, now in military service in Iraq. Jerry, it seems, is a man for whom violence is never far from the surface, and Sara Jane is worried that his time in the desert will warp him in horrible and irreversible ways, as it did her brother Joe.
Provocatively, Lodato has Sara Jane admit her own attraction to violence, and worry that their bondage games pushed Jerry closer to callous disregard of human life. It is at once thoughtful and witty writing, and if the play’s conclusion is not entirely satisfactory, we are permitted to craft our own.
Lodato’s efforts to develop a second story line around Linnie are less successful. Linnie is a useful character through which to reveal those secrets Sara Jane cannot (or cannot fast enough). But Lodato does not have much to say about Linnie’s dilemma, which is a medical one, not susceptible to philosophic analysis. The final scene, in which Linnie metamorphoses into Sara Jane, leaves the impression that Linnie never existed at all, and that Sara Jane suffers from a dissociative personality disorder. This, of course, opens Sara Jane’s whole narrative to question, which does not benefit the play.
But this flaw should not blind us to the merits of the production, which include sharp, witty writing, a cunning collaboration between set and costume (both by Margaret A. McKowan), and, in particular, stunning performance(s) by Ms. Parsons.
Dear Sara Jane
by Victor Lodato
directed be Ed Herendeen
produced by Contemporary American Theater Festival
reviewed by Tim Treanor