FRINGE REVIEW | THE INTELLIGENT DESIGN OF JENNY CHOW
by Rod Ceballos
‘The intelligent design of Jenny Chow’ is actually intelligent in its design. It has moments of hilarity, dramatic confrontations, an inventive set and a couple of outstanding performances. Since its premiere in 2003 the play has been performed around the United States and is currently part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, care of the Boutique Theatre company. By all logic it should be a guaranteed winner. And yet…
‘The intelligent design of Jenny Chow’ centers on the story of Jennifer, a young woman raised by her adoptive parents in California, now on a mission to find her natural mother in China. The only problem is her obsessive compulsive agoraphobia prohibiting her from leaving the confines of her house.
Fortunately she is also very smart – a rocket scientist actually – and created real artificial intelligence while still in high school. Thus her journey, carried out via the internet and ultimately through her robotic avatar, Jenny Chow, is performed entirely from inside her house. The only exceptions to this are one emotive scene set in China, and one hilariously frantic car chase through town that’s worth the price of admission all on its own.
Now, hours after having watched the play, I am still trying to discern what, if anything, I was meant to take away from it. There is no denying the earnest work of the actors performing a cleverly orchestrated play, nor the contagious fun of certain scenes when the whole cast is on stage. However, with its two-hour running time, multiple characters and multiple underdeveloped themes, it’s the play itself that leaves me wondering as to its popularity.
It’s quite possible that this play has not aged well in an era where agoraphobia almost seems a natural state for our technology obsessed youth, or that it is hard to empathize with a heroine so self centered that she is ultimately hard to like. While the mechanics of the play move us back and forth over the period of four months, we don’t glimpse a long term evolution of Jenifer’s condition which could help us support her single minded manipulation of others; nor is there any significant progression for the character as she meets either success or failure. A lot might have been gained by pursuing the theme of mental illness further, but this, much like the themes of racial identity, being a foster child, forming academic overachievers, are merely story conveniences for a journey that is entertaining and imaginative but not quite fulfilling.
In the end ‘The intelligent design of Jenny Chow’ is intelligent but, much like its erratically minded protagonist, wants to say much more than it manages to communicate… at least, I think it does. Still, if you are after some fun, and want to support worthy local talent, you can check this play out at Brunswick Arts Space till the 3rd of October. I may not have been crazy about the story itself but was impressed enough with the Boutique Theatre Company to want to see more of their work.
Rod is the Northsider’s photography editor, occasional photographer and random writer of bits and pieces. His number one fan is his ten year old daughter, who thinks being published in Internet equals being famous. To see more of this work click here.