‘Janice Under Water’ Emerges as Test of Sanity

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8aa6f817486b23e49c8d_Janice_Underwater.jpg

UNION, NJ – If you want to know whether you’re crazy or not (like your mother), it’s best to take a test and face the results.

That’s the situation in which Janice finds herself in the new play Janice Under Water by Tom Matthew Wolfe at Premiere Stage on the campus of Kean University.

The protagonist, a 32-year-old artist, is living in a small apartment in New York City. She’s struggling financially, having just lost her job, and appears to have trouble separating reality from fantasy. Amy Staats is convincing as Janice, searching for some purpose in her life and fearful that she may be losing her mind.

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Her mother, played by Susan Louise O’Connor, sometimes appears behind a scrim or is seen driving a car someplace along the New Jersey Turnpike. Is this a memory, a delusion or something in between? We have the sense that her mother is a ghost, possibly dead. But at the end of the play, she’s apparently coming for dinner. Did something get lost in translation?

The play has its high points and amusing moments. One of the best scenes is with Janice’s father, played with verve by Daren Kelly. He touches beautifully on an aspect of aging, as his children try to help him pay bills and ease the tensions in his hold on life. Ryan Barry is his son, Jimmy, who suggests that Janice move "back home," where there’s plenty of space for her art and a chance to reestablish the family unit.

Early on, Janice meets the super in her apartment building, the handsome Eddie Boroevich as Paul. But he, too, has his demons. He’s a war veteran who left his wife and children as he felt unable to care for them. He and Janice have a fairly graphic one-night-stand, but these two wounded souls gradually build a rapport with each other. Daniel Pellicano appears as a counselor and interviewer during Janice’s journey. Once again, reality becomes confused with dreams or fantasies.

Still, there are many redeeming moments. The gradually emerging portrait at the back of Janice’s apartment casts its own haunting spell. The set design by Caite Hevner Kemp provides fluid shifts from apartment to house. Direction by Jade King Carroll keeps the action moving. The play could still use some fine-tuning to clarify relationships and provide a greater contrast between what we might consider ordinary life and the inner turmoil that belongs to Janice alone.

Janice under Water was selected from 400 submissions for Premiere’s annual competition from area playwrights. Performances continue through Sept. 21. For tickets, call (908) 737-7469 or visit kean.edu/premierestages .

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