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October 11, 2002 - Image 92

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-10-11

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Arts I Entertainment

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`Tommy J And Sally'

JET'S season opener is an honest,
bias-driven tug-of-war.

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SUSAN ZWEIG
_
Special to the Jewish News

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5

hen white and black
collide under dramatic
circumstances, we tend
to expect a sanitized
study in gray where underlying com-
monalties are uncovered and several
acts' worth of nagging differences are
resolved. -
The Jewish Ensemble Theatre
Company's performance of Mark
Medoff's Tommy J and Sally
comes from a place much
more honest, and, as a
result, much more explosive
and disturbing.
Squirming in one's seat
seems about as natural a the-
ater activity here as flipping
through a program.
The tension begins almost
immediately when Tommy J
(Craig Wallace) breaks into
the New York loft of record-
ing star Sally (Stephanie
Stephan). What unfolds as a
typical slow-mo horror of
generalized crime turns out to
be neither typical nor general:
Tommy J insists he knew
Sally as a teen — lived with
her family even — when she
was still unknown Madeline
Rosenberg. According to Tommy J,
she and her family wronged him in an
act more unforgivable than any petty
break-in.
Sally's blankness and denials of the
shared history are equaled only by
Tommy J's certainty. Is TJ legitimate
or a fanatic? Is Sally telling the truth
or angling to save her life?
While kitchen cutlery and Sally's
gun are used as tools of intimidation,
racial slurs are the real weapons of
choice. Both Sally and Tommy J land
verbal punches that bruise and sting.
Medoff's writing crackles with arrest-
ing freshness and fire, peppered with
poetic rat-a-tat and the stabbing-come-
backs we mortals think of only after
the altercation is over.
In a shuffling of namesakes, we soon
learn Tommy J . is Thomas Jefferson, an
African-American with a wrong to
right, both personally and on behalf of
his forefathers.-And lily-white pop star

Sally is Sally Hemings, slave mostly to
career, fame, and several other equally
addictive substances.
Their character names are not really
sidebars to the story: History has
recorded President Thomas Jefferson
fathered children with his slave, Sally
Hemings; that relationship, by its very
nature, would have been a gross abuse
of station. In Tommy J and Sally, the
ambiguities of station and truth are no
more resolved.
Wallace and Stephan are terrific as
Tommy J and Sally. They dodge
and stumble and weave like
boxers in a ring, seizing the
upperhand and relinquishing
it over many rounds, keeping
the audience guessing as to
how this match will end.
Edith Leavis Bookstein's
costumes stand as a kind of
window into the characters
that wear them; Monika
Essen's set is appropriately
airy and Spartan. Director
Bob Devin Jones has crafted
a production that does not
pander, relent or apologize.
In the audience post-
mortem on Oct. 5, Jones
admitted to tweaking the
ending of this Midwest pre-
miere based on Stephanie
Stephan's characterization of
Sally. This ending stands more conclu-
sive on whether Sally is who she says
she is (or not). While murky seems a
more appropriate close to Medoff's
play, as subtle as this alteration is
staged and acted, you'll leave with the
ending you personally desire.
After all, the way you interpret
Tommy J and Sally resides with the bias
you carry into the theater. Not surpris-
ingly, that's what you'll be wrestling •
with long after you get home. ❑

JET presents Tommy J and Sally
Wednesdays, Thursdays,
Saturdays and Sundays through
Nov. 3 at the Jewish Community
Center in West Bloomfield.
Tickets range $23-$30, depend-
ing on performance. Senior dis-
counts. Call for show times,
(248) 788-2900.

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