Thursday , December 7 2023
Schulenberg marshals all his gifts for comedy, poetry, scintillating wordplay and magical realism in his latest Flux Theatre bouquet – until it all runs away from him.

Theater Review (NYC): ‘Jane the Plain’ by August Schulenburg

Alisha Spielmann and Chinaza Uche
Alisha Spielmann and Chinaza Uche in ‘Jane the Plain.’ Photo credit Deborah Alexander
August Schulenburg marshals all his gifts for comedy, poetry, scintillating wordplay and magical realism in his latest theatrical bouquet Jane the Plain. His new Flux Theatre play stereotypes each of six high school students down to the moniker (Scotty the Hottie, Leonard the Awkward, Jane the Plain), but as they swirl through a sprawling story of football, dances, and mystical encounters each character reveals human depths. A whirlwind of laughs and powerful performances sculpted artfully into fast-paced form by director Kelly O’Donnell and fleshed out by acute, spirited lighting and sound design (by Kia Rogers and Janie Bullard respectively), its only problem is a serious case of not knowing when to quit.

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.

Jane the Plain featuring Becky Byers, Isaiah Tanenbaum, Chester Poon, and Sol Crespo Photo credit Deborah Alexander
Becky Byers, Isaiah Tanenbaum, Chester Poon, and Sol Crespo in ‘Jane the Plain.’ Photo credit Deborah Alexander
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.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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