Told via a mashup of self-referential theatricality, narration, and elevated (if at times age-appropriately rough) language Jane the Plain seems ostensibly a story about how beauty and the perception of beauty mark people’s whole lives. The high school setting serves the usual purpose of intensifying the emotions (everything is life-and-death for adolescents) and thus making the magical happenings seem perfectly natural, at least at first.A mystical encounter turns the titular plain-jane into a mesmerizing beauty, setting the story’s main stream in motion. Later, a Stephen King-esque figure of Death emerges from another character’s past to complicate the picture and engender a climactic confrontation. But by the time Leeson the Decent materializes out of the chaos (in one of several scenes that feel like the end) to explain what he believes has really just gone down at the big game, my suspension of disbelief had already been snapped.
There’s so much to admire and enjoy during the 95-minute play’s first hour. Precision hilarity from Chinaza Uche as Scotty the Hottie and from the always razor-sharp Becky Byers as Betty the Pretty; bounding energy mingled with touching hopefulness from Isaiah Tanenbaum’s nerdy Leonard the Awkward; and a carefully calibrated mix of neediness and inner strength from Alisha Spielmann’s Jane all contribute to the cartoonish but intensely recognizable characterizations. It’s a sheer delight until the story spins away from itself and loses track of what it wanted to be and say. While this isn’t the greatest of the Flux productions I’ve seen, neither will it damage the troupe’s reputation as one of the most imaginative in New York or Schulenburg’s as perhaps downtown’s most colorfully inventive wordsmith of the stage.
Jane the Plain runs through May 24 at the 4th Street Theatre, NYC. Get tickets online.