Sunday, January 06, 2008


Yes, yes, martial arts are impressive, I get it. But in the rapidly growing "niche" of spectacles in the theater industry, Jump, like Be before it, and even Slava's Snowshow, just doesn't get a rise out of me. At best, it hops in the right direction, but just like the Old Man who dodders around for laughs rather than display his formidable gymnastic skills, Jump buries itself in slapstick. The gimmick here is the human recreation of Saturday morning cartoons -- with particular emphasis on the exaggerated reaction shots of Japanese anime (something you may see soon on the big screen with the live action Dragonball film). But the presentation is rather tame, with a simple run-down living room (you can see footprints on the walls from previous performances) as the only set piece, and "weapons" (all kid friendly, from the sheet metal swords to the cartoon-sized mallet) as flimsy as the plot. Where's the rebellious streak of those metal mashers from Stomp, the creative juices (and paints) of Blue Man Group, the all-at-once attitude of the short-lived Blast, the adrenaline of Antigravity, or even the audience involvement of Fuerzabrutza?

Granted, it isn't fair to compare Jump to rhythmic shows, but like it or not, that's what it's competing against, and its lackluster excuses for synchronized martial arts exhibitions don't work. Jump has a choreographer (Young-Sub Jin), a comedy director (Won-Kil Paek), a consulting director (Jim Millan), and an actual director (Chul-Ki Choi), and that's what shows: a melange of competing thoughts, mugging one another for laughs. Worse still, none of these directors are particularly apt: for an eighty-minute show, many of the jokes and moves are recycled, and the actors, stripped for the most part of any depth, have very little charisma to make them more charming. The Son-in-Law transforms from a silk-robed nerd into a mesh-shirted stud whenever his glasses come off, but after the fifth "reversion," even he seems bored with the loose and jittery direction. On the other hand, the Uncle's drunken fist is always amusing, as is the Father's constant clowning. But with all that, the two late night burglars seem superfluous, especially as one of them is simply a comic foil -- we laugh at his inability to do triple backflips in empathy, but he's about as dazzling as the two audience "extras."

For a play that's so sparse in plot and set, it's somewhat remarkable that Jump also manages to be so confusing. At several moments in the show, the action freezes and either fast-forwards or rewinds (again, with so little specificity that it seems sloppy), the point of which is unclear. Little solos with the Old Man eat up the clock, but don't tell any sort of story. And the relationship between the characters is a process-of-elimination guessing game between the program and the performance: there's no brother, so that must be the uncle, and I assume he's the son-in-law, although I hope that moment's in the future, as he's just met his wife-to-be; and why shouldn't Father and Mother fight all the time? It would take a whole lot more jumping to make all these random acts add up; instead, Jump falls flat on its face. And unfortunately, because the floor is one giant rubber mat, it doesn't have the grace to stay down.

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