I grew up near Niagara Falls. Every month in the good weather, a couple of people will step over the guard rail, slip into the river and surrender to its astonishing power, to gravity and to the rocks below. This information is not included in most tourist literature.
When you dive into a swimming pool, water, being water and not, say, concrete, will get out of your way to give you a soft landing. But from a hundred and eighty feet, which is the height of Niagara Falls, or two hundred twelve feet, which is the distance between the George Washington Bridge and the Hudson River below, the body is traveling at such a speed that the water can’t possibly get out of the way in time, and the effect is like landing on dirt or sand.
Who would do such a thing? What trauma could be so profound that it drives the sufferer to give up his life in such a dramatic and self-punishing way?
Well, don’t go to 315 for an answer. 315, a story about the (fictional) 315th jumper from the George Washington Bridge, is instead a pasty melodrama and whodunit. A woman returning from work (Sarah Catherine Welsh) sees a lone figure standing on the bridge, high above the water. As she scrambles from her car, the figure leaps to the heavy-handed embrace of the currents below.
by Jp Sisneros
Directed by Sarah Frances and Hope Williams
Details and tickets
But who did this horrible thing? Was it the clinically depressed Phil (Philip Da Costa), a Columbia University student friendless except for his high school pal Ashley (Kelly Ohanian)? Was it the aspiring New York artist Colby (Molly Janiga), whose masterpiece has been rejected in the most lurid terms by…somebody? Was it her roommate Sam (Allie O’Donnell), who is dealing with gender identity issues?
Or…do we really care? We can understand Phil, whose dilemma is a medical one, like arteriosclerosis or Bright’s disease, which must be treated medically. But Colby and Sam deal with matters which many people confront without killing themselves. What makes their situation so difficult that they contemplate the big sleep?
Playwright Jp Sisneros never tells us. Instead, he has his characters speculate on how others would react to news of their death, which makes it sound like they are contemplating gestures, rather than actually being in any real danger. He inflicts us with a tedious scene at an art museum, where the dialogue seems to come out of a Wikipedia article. He saddles us with an improbable resolution and an even more improbable postscript. The characters change moods without motivation.
The actors struggle valiantly with this material, but I’m sorry to report they do not overcome the script’s deficiencies. Welsh is fine in her small role; the rest show some talent but do not master the lightning mood transitions.
The venue adds to the production’s problems. The play is produced in the round, in a small room with all the seats close to the stage. Director Sarah Frances Hope Williams has not overcome the challenges this presents (frankly, I’m not sure how she could) and wherever you sit, actors will have their backs to you for extended periods. The lights are hung low, and it is difficult to avoid being half-blinded by them. I had periodic difficulty understanding the actors, notwithstanding their proximity. Since the problem affected everyone, I assume that it has to do with acoustics, rather than lack of articulation.
So this play, in my view, is not of the greatest. But writing is hard, and failure is part of the writer’s stock in trade. Sisneros allows his characters to experience success after experiencing failure. I hope he gives the same allowance to himself.