Sarah Jones, the multitalented performer and author of 'Bridge & Tunnel,' goes through quite a few in her amazing one-woman show that has finally made the jump from off-Broadway to Broadway, opening Thursday at the Helen Hayes Theatre.
Call her the Emma Lazarus of the hip-hop generation, a champion of New York's newest citizens and a worthy successor to the woman who wrote, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
Jones is not constrained by age, sex, race or ethnicity in her brief, but incisive portrayals of the American immigrant, circa 2006. She does a dozen or so, bringing them together for a poetry slam at a little place called the Bridge and Tunnel Cafe in glorious South Queens. The evening is headlined by a genial Pakistani accountant named Mohammed Ali.
The performer's portraits, compressed into a crisp 90-minutes, are warmhearted, often touching and, on occasion, hilarious. Mohammed, a sweet-tempered man who is fond of bad puns, is Jones' most inspired creation. He is the master of ceremonies at the slam and sets the framework for what is to follow.
A lithe, exotic-looking woman with her hair severely pulled back, Jones is able to create this man with a minimum of effort, just by putting on a jacket. Bits of clothing help her define the other characters, too. Eyeglasses, T-shirts, baseball caps. They all help.
The parade of people is impressive and accomplished with rapid-fire speed thanks to Tony Taccone's efficient direction. Among the standouts: Lorraine Levine, a Long Island grandma whose poetry decries do-gooders who want to give her a seat on the bus. Bao, a punkish Vietnamese kid who decries Asian stereotypes. Mrs. Ling, a Chinese woman who frets about her daughter's relationship with another woman. Gladys Bailey, a strenuous Jamaican performance artist. And Juan Jose Martinez, a wheelchair-bound Mexican injured in a construction accident.
Jones has updated the show since her off-Broadway outing last year. It's a bit more political, although the sly digs at a certain administration are not heavy-handed or strident. Just funny.
The performer's verbal dexterity is flawless. She is able to capture a nationality with her voice alone, which may be why costume changes are minimal. And there is a generosity of spirit to these portraits. Jones clearly likes each and every one of her creations.
On a second viewing, what comes through even more is the woman's physicality. She moves across the stage with the grace and assurance of a dancer, providing a kinetic energy that complements the rich texture of the script.
The best one-person shows -- those featuring such performers as Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg, for example -- are rooted in character. 'Bridge & Tunnel' abounds in memorable, highly diverse characters. And that they are played by only one woman makes it all the more astonishing.