By MARTY CLEAR
TAMPA — Even if the current production of The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow were a failure, you would have to congratulate Hat Trick Theatre for taking it on.
The play is complex, both thematically and technically, and a challenge for a theater company that operates in a tiny space with a limited budget.
To try and fail would have been noble, and this production of Rolin Jones' 5-year-old play is far from a failure.
But it's also not a total success. Despite excellent performances and an inventive script, Jenny annoys as often as impresses.
One problem could be fixed by the next performances. This past Sunday's show was marred by serious technical glitches, especially with the sound.
Another is more problematic. Too often, director Chris Rutherford and his cast settled for speed, volume and bombast rather than subtlety.
We ought to have plenty of reason, for example, to sympathize with the central character, who can barely function because of agoraphobia. But actor Gi Sung speaks so rapidly, it's sometimes hard to understand her, and she screams so loudly and so often it is a chore to listen. (She's not the only one guilty of excessive volume. There's a lot of screaming from a lot of the actors.) We end up caring less than we should.
The play revolves around a brilliant but housebound young woman named Jennifer Marcus. She was born in China, given up for adoption and raised in America.
She decides to seek out her birth mother. But since she can't leave the house, she decides to build a robot to be her eyes and ears.
So it's a fresh and unusual script, with many amusing moments and some thought-provoking themes. The acting in this production is quite good even if sometimes overdone. Sung is charismatic, and though her performance is best in quieter moments, even her manic phases are impressive for their energy. Jeanne M. Adams, as her beleaguered mother, has some lovely scenes with her.
In the end, Sung's character gains more insight from creating the robot than she does from connecting with her mother. It's a poignant message, and it's clear enough in this production, but it might have been more effectively imparted through a more delicate touch.
Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at [email protected]