|Connor Ryan and Kate Baldwin as John and Jen.|
Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Seen on: Friday, 2/13/15.
My grade: B. A solid enough production of a rather thin show.
Plot and BackgroundTold almost entirely through song, Andrew Lippa's two-hander musical follows the story of John and Jen (and other John), as told against the ever-changing times of the second half of the twentieth century. Jen watches out for her little brother from his infancy, trying to protect him from their quarreling parents and controlling father; but when she leaves for college and discovers the psychedelic lifestyle, he falls more under his father's influence, enlists, and is killed in Vietnam. In Act Two, Jen, now a single mother raising a son named after her late brother, tries to keep the memory of her brother alive in her son, not noticing how smothered he feels by his mother's clinging protectiveness. When he decides to forego college to stay home and look after her fragile emotional state, she has to confront whom they've both become. john & jen was originally produced Off-Broadway in 1995 at The Lamb's Theatre and briefly revived there in 2006. This production marks the show's twentieth anniversary.
What I Knew BeforehandI'd heard the cast album years ago and remembered being unimpressed by what felt like a rather predictable and derivative narrative.
Play: Seeing this production didn't drastically change my opinion of the story itself - it's not, at least for me, a terribly interesting narrative - but there was something about the storytelling, something that didn't translate to the cast album I'd listened to as a teen, that made the story more palatable. It wasn't just getting to see it staged, the songs removed from their vacuum - largely it was the charisma of the two performers, as well as being able to see the transitions within and around the songs, as the characters age and grow. Maybe it was even that patch of green grass at the center of the stage - the place where Jen could be alone, where John leaves her, and leaves her again.