Julia May Jonas takes us inside a creepy rehab for wayward girls.
Tue Feb 28 2012
Photograph: Zack Brown
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
On Thursday, an injury sidelined one of Julia May Jonas's actors in her eerie, girls-gone-feral comedy Evelyn, so Jonas herself had to play Tiffany, a mean girl with a sideline in Wicca. As such, she moped and speed-puffed cigarettes like a champ; the role could have been built for her. But then, why not? Jonas collaged Evelyn from memories of her time at camp for wayward girls and the lemon-drop menace of outsider artist Henry Darger's At Jennie Richee. The story feels like a paper-doll adventure told by a disturbed and brilliant teenager; no wonder Jonas (herself seemingly so young) can slip into its two-dimensional embrace.
Jonas's main strength, though, is in her ear. Evelyn's setting, a weird rehab-retreat for self-hating women, comes staffed by a specter (Richard Saudek cross-dressed as a horror-movie clich "woman in black") and surrounded by Grimm-dark woods. Darger gets namechecked, but this is also a George Saunders landscape, full of humor and rules (points for eating salad dressing) and the possibility of being torn asunder. Jonas's dialogue tunes itself perfectly to gossip and to amateur artiness, as when one inmate gives us a taste of her Nikola Tesla musical. We're therefore astonished and delighted while we're still meeting the ward and learning its politics, trying to figure out just what all the therapy is meant to treat.
Then Jonas introduces her "plot" point: Evelyn, the celebrity-patient who will poison this delicate ecology. Actor Hannah Heller does a lovely, nervy job, but the plotline needs her to exert Dionysiac charisma in order to drag the story into something like its intended tragic arc. She can't; maybe no one could. In fact, it's Jonas-as-director who stumbles over the heavy narrative block, and her inventive but unsteady staging frays. The end, though, brings us back to the superbly balanced weirdness of the beginning: Doctor Katie (Lucy Kaminsky) sings us an elliptical little song, the girls turn into hierophants of some dark religion, blinking redly like bloodthirsty owls.