I don’t know about anyone else, but I tend to gravitate toward shows that have depth. Layers of meaning. So many layers, in fact, that every time you watch you notice something new you didn’t catch before. Shows like that—whether they be television, movie, or theater—are special, and not just because they are few and far in between. No, among the myriad other reasons is that they are grounded in strong writing. Indeed, it takes a talented writer to weave a theme into a story in so many different ways without it feeling in your face or overdone. And it takes an incredibly talented one to do it in a way that is also clever and beautiful.
Last week I attended the opening night of Jennifer Jasper’s new play Pressing Matters, and I can tell you that she falls very squarely into the category of incredibly talented writers.
Pressing Matters is comprised of six stories, all connected through a broad focus on the “imponderables of love,” but with each exploring the theme in a very unique way. In the first—“et-y-mol-o-gy”—a childhood spelling bee mirrors the evolution of a couple’s relationship, while in the second—“Inheritance”—an evolution of a very different sort unfolds. “Free Range” tells a strange tale of a mother’s love; and “Oscar Clyde Denman,” “Thanksgiving in July,” and “Destination Unknown” all deal in their own respective ways with the concept of letting go. The stories cover a range of heavy subject matter, from mental illness to incest to other…baggage. Contrary to what you might expect, however, Jasper covers each of these topics in a manner that is witty and—well, funny—more than anything else. Not in a way that makes light of anything though—just in a way that is incredibly smart. In fact, in each story she ties everything together so brilliantly that you can’t even fully appreciate it until the very end when all is said and done.
Jasper’s talents as a writer do not end there though. No—what I loved the most about Pressing Matters is the range of tools she uses to illuminate her themes. Metaphors, plays on words, flashbacks—there are no limits to what she can do! Or I should say, no limits to what she can do effectively, because she certainly knows how to use them in ways that feel seamless, natural, and inherent to the stories she is telling.
But I should step back from the brilliant writing for a second and also acknowledge the acting, because it too was amazing. You might worry with a cast of just five people flipping in and out of roles—sometimes multiple roles in one story—the actors might come off a little disconnected from their characters. Not true at all here. In fact, the depth of the performances blew me away. If I had to name a standout, it would be Molly Carden in her role as “Miss” in “Oscar Clyde Denman,” but honestly, similar to Jasper’s writing, what really stood out is the range each of these actors showed and the way they were able to switch so quickly from terminally ill woman to snarky flight attendant. British butler to happy-go-lucky traveler. Abusive father to caring suitor.
Yes, this was a rock solid cast with a boatload of talent.
I highly recommend this play to anyone who likes their theater the way they like their late night television—sharp, with a bit of a kick, and not afraid to tackle serious subjects. So basically, everyone. The show is playing at the Clurman Theatre (410 West 42nd Street) through May 20, 2017. Tickets are $49 and can be purchased on the website or by calling 212-239-6200.
By: Reagan Daly