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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow’ cosmic in Sturgeon Bay

Critic At Large

Figures in Third Avenue Playhouse’s “The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow,” are, clockwise from upper left, playwright Rolin Jones, director Marie Tredway and actors Harmony Zhang, Dwight Sora, Nicholas Tanner Garren, Preston Tate, Jr., Theresa Ro and Sydney Richards. (Warren Gerds amalgamation)

STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Theater can take you to places you ordinarily cannot go. How about from California to China by way of an android built by an adopted 22-year-old Asian-American genius with agoraphobia as a way to connect with her birth mother?

That is a capsule summary of “The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow.”

It’s smart sci-fi on steroids.

It’s also a plate of scrambled eggs.

The play by Rolin Jones was presented Friday night via Zoom by Third Avenue Playhouse as part of the professional theater’s “PlayWorks 2021” play reading series.

Acting was high level, especially by Sydney Richards as Jennifer Marcus, the character who won’t leave home without it – herself, her being, her body and particularly her computer-like brain.

Sydney Richards’ high-wire act included rapid-fire outpourings of character Jennifer Marcus’ lippiness, brilliance, tempestuousness, drive, daring and rigor along with real tears in a squall at the climax. Simply: Wow.

Individual performances took place in the Chicago area. Skillfully prepared and guided by director Marie Tredway, the actors interacted very well despite being more than socially distanced. Everyone had interesting roles, and most actors portrayed more than one with either changes in dialect or even language. In scenes in China, Mandarin came into play.

Rolin Jones’ script operates on many levels. Included are science, science-fiction, adoption, international adoption, mental illness, parenting a difficult being, being a difficult being, robotics, governmental/military secret operations, Frankensteinian creativity and sensitivities and insensitivities about all that, with f-bombs tossed in.

Sydney Richards was “on” all the time, on screen and absorbed in character. She had dandy players to work off of/with:

+ Theresa Ro – the corporate/ramrod adoptive mother and the natural mother suddenly met by (soulfully portray) painful memories on her doorstep.

+ Preston Tate Jr. – from a voice to multiple dialects/characterizations/personalities, my favorite being the great, put-upon professor from eastern Europe who helps in making the android. The author plays a joke on academia: Dr. Yakunin has been let go by MIT, and he muddles through at Yale, which is depicted as a dump. A payback in there???

+ Nicholas Tanner Garren – the flakiest pizza delivery guy on earth. Why and how his friendship with the brain can be is unfathomable, but the performance is awesome, Dude.

+ Dwight Sora – the adoptive father/injury-retired fireman eager to chase and whisp of smoke he can see from the balcony and the stepfather in China. Kindness in the former gives Jennifer someone to love.

+ Harmony Zhang – the robot, going from stilted talk and moves to becoming somewhat sentient. Her android flies from California to China and back; how fun is that? Harmony Zhang also is dialect coach, and her work with Theresa Ro on Mandarin creates convincing sounds and also an aura of heartfelt sorrow.

Not only did the play take Friday’s audience to places it ordinarily wouldn’t go, COVID-19 influenced “PlayWorks 2021” has expanded horizons in types of plays and personnel.

“The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow” was quite a ride.

Flying scene. (Warren Gerds screenshot)

***

Creative: Playwright – Rolin Jones; director – Marie Tredway; dialect coach – Harmony Zhang

Running time: Two hours, 10 minutes

Cast:

Jenny Chow – Harmony Zhang

Jennifer Marcus – Sydney Richards

Adele Hartwick, Ms. Zhang – Theresa Ro

Mr. Marcus, Mr. Zhang – Dwight Sora

Preston, Terrence, Col. Hubbard, Dr. Yakunin, Voice of Computer Translator – Preston Tate Jr.

Todd, A Boy – Nicholas Tanner Garren

***

NEXT: “Two Henrys” by Kenneth Jones, 7 p.m. June 18. Info: thirdavenueplayhouse.com.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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