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Saddam under our skin


Let me begin by writing that I'm at a complete loss of words to express my utter confusion over Jump-Start's latest production, Blood Under the Bridge: The Last Redemption of Saddam H. Honestly, I'm not too sure what the plot of the entire two-hour-and- 45-minute production was about (yes, that long … with one 10- minute intermission — more on that later).

Rasheed X (left, Kitty Williams) checks S.W. Anil's (right, S.T. Shimi) identification.

Doyle Avant wrote the lengthy play and takes on the role of hotel owner Jake Santa Maria Al Rehman, a perfectly suited part for the refined actor. His aim for the production was to find a correlation of some sort between Bobby Kennedy's June 6, 1968 assassination, and today's ongoing war effort. However, somewhere in the mix I became lost in translation between a roaming journalist (played brilliantly by S.T. Shimi) and each character's dream flashback —  which ultimately tells how they ended upon the main stage at the Ambassador Hotel.

And then this is where everything turns really fuzzy. The performance is part of Jump-Start's Electric Performance Lab, in which original works are developed with input from audience members (check out the post-show discussion for yourselves on May 17), so I went in knowing that this wasn't your typical play — I mean what Jump-Start production is? (That's not a put-down, by the way.)

Walking into the performance, you're greeted by Rasheed X (played by the always outrageous Kitty Williams) and a nurse (Billy Muñoz). Your wrist is scanned with a laser pointer and you then proceed into the theater. The set design is bare bones — but this provides enough moving room for the cast to bounce from one wall to the other, which they do during the duration of the performance. The stage, aisles, and any other place the spotlight shines are where they perform. This was a great use of space, especially for Monessa Esquivel, who played Saddam H. Her usual over-the-top antics were kicked into high gear with this performance. She did the best she could with the script, breaking into a handful of songs throughout the night, including the theme song of the play "The Girl from Ipanema" — performed by Monessa in a bikini-top and earlier in the play by her bad boy from Baghdad alter ego.

Highlights of the performance included Muñoz as Jesus Angel Amador; he captured the youthful demeanor of a baby-faced war casualty. Another standout was Ray Bo, a 17-year-old writer and product of Jump-Start's education program — he held his own while working alongside Jump-Start members who've been in countless performances together — his energy was palpable. I give Jump-Start credit for their ability to blend multimedia features in their productions — they successfully pulled it off early in the year with As Filthy as it Gets and follow suit this time around as well. The sequence in which Saddam and Rebbe Menachem Schnearson duke it out via a video game probably could have been left out, but it added a great moment of comic relief that broke the tension in the fidgety audience.

Blood Under the Bridge seems to be an example of a pseudo-intellectuals effort to put on a play that is so out there no one can understand it. Avant's effort is commendable — he picked a solid group of actors and made the most of his limited resources — but it seems he didn't make an effort at all to cut his play down, not just for the sake of the audience, but for the actors. A lot of dialogue recited in the second act seemed too convoluted. The production could have easily cut 30 minutes and — made a helluva lot more sense, too.

Blood Under the Bridge: The Last Redemption of Saddam H
8pm Fri-Sun
Through May 18
Jump-Start Performance Co.
108 Blue Star
(210) 227-5867

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