Let me begin by writing that I'm at a complete loss of words to express
my utter confusion over Jump-Start's latest production, Blood Under the Bridge: The Last
Redemption of Saddam H. Honestly, I'm not too sure what
the plot of the entire two-hour-and- 45-minute production was about
(yes, that long … with one 10- minute intermission
— more on that later).
Doyle Avant wrote the lengthy play and takes on the role of hotel owner
Jake Santa Maria Al Rehman, a perfectly suited part for the refined
actor. His aim for the production was to find a correlation of some
sort between Bobby Kennedy's June 6, 1968 assassination, and today's
ongoing war effort. However, somewhere in the mix I became lost in
translation between a roaming journalist (played brilliantly by S.T.
Shimi) and each character's dream flashback — which
ultimately tells how they ended upon the main stage at the Ambassador
And then this is where everything turns really fuzzy. The
performance is part of Jump-Start's Electric Performance Lab, in which
original works are developed with input from audience members (check
out the post-show discussion for yourselves on May 17), so I went in
knowing that this wasn't your typical play — I mean what
Jump-Start production is? (That's not a put-down, by the way.)
Walking into the performance, you're greeted by Rasheed X (played by
the always outrageous Kitty Williams) and a nurse (Billy
Muñoz). Your wrist is scanned with a laser pointer and you
then proceed into the theater. The set design is bare bones —
but this provides enough moving room for the cast to bounce from one
wall to the other, which they do during the duration of the
performance. The stage, aisles, and any other place the spotlight
shines are where they perform. This was a great use of space,
especially for Monessa Esquivel, who played Saddam H. Her usual
over-the-top antics were kicked into high gear with this performance.
She did the best she could with the script, breaking into a handful of
songs throughout the night, including the theme song of the play "The
Girl from Ipanema" — performed by Monessa in a bikini-top and
earlier in the play by her bad boy from Baghdad alter ego.
Highlights of the performance included Muñoz as Jesus Angel
Amador; he captured the youthful demeanor of a baby-faced war casualty.
Another standout was Ray Bo, a 17-year-old writer and product of
Jump-Start's education program — he held his own while
working alongside Jump-Start members who've been in countless
performances together — his energy was palpable. I give
Jump-Start credit for their ability to blend multimedia features in
their productions — they successfully pulled it off early in
the year with As Filthy
as it Gets and follow suit this time around as well. The
sequence in which Saddam and Rebbe Menachem Schnearson duke it out via
a video game probably could have been left out, but it added a great
moment of comic relief that broke the tension in the fidgety audience.
Blood Under the Bridge
seems to be an example of a pseudo-intellectuals effort to put on a
play that is so out there no one can understand it. Avant's effort is
commendable — he picked a solid group of actors and made the
most of his limited resources — but it seems he didn't make
an effort at all to cut his play down, not just for the sake of the
audience, but for the actors. A lot of dialogue recited in the second
act seemed too convoluted. The production could have easily cut 30
minutes and — made a helluva lot more sense, too.
Blood Under the Bridge:
The Last Redemption of Saddam H
Through May 18
Jump-Start Performance Co.
108 Blue Star