Premiering at The Brunswick Arts Space for the Melbourne Fringe Festival, The Intelligent Design of Jennifer Chow is written by Emmy Award-nominated playwright Rolin Jones, and directed by Emma Cadwell. Charming and resourcefully low-tech, the play focuses on Jennifer Marcus (Tegan Jones) a young Californian genius, originally born in China and given up for adoption as an infant. We are introduced to her family and significant events that have occurred to her over the past for months through a narrated Instant Message conversation with an anonymous bounty hunter whose purpose is, for a time at least, shrouded in ambiguity.
The claustrophobic space works very effectively for agoraphobic, housebound protagonist. Actors use limited set space of the intimate Brunswick Arts Space perfectly, seamlessly transporting through various locations with only the most minimal of prop changes. (Calling the venue “intimate” is being generous – it’s effectively a domestic shed that backs onto a Brunswick back alley – but it works.)
The set itself built almost entirely out of cardboard; it’s a cluttered, barely held together mess and speaks volumes about its inhabitant well before she even steps out. Movable set pieces bring stage to light, almost becoming another character in the play.
A personal highlight for me was the performance of actor Sam Lavery, who is tasked with bringing the plays collection of minor characters to life. His turn as a Russian scientist with a “Shakespearian sense of betrayal” was show stealing in its unhinged brilliance.
This play may be one of pathos and family drama, but it is laced with irreverent humour and ridiculousness. The excellent performances by the cast keep the shifting tone from becoming too apparent, or taking away from moments of heartbreak that this play throws at the audience like an errant punch. For anyone interested in the Melbourne Fringe Festival this year, The Intelligent Design of Jennifer Chow is definitely one to add to the top of your list.
My only critique? Needs more robot. The robot was delightful.
The Intelligent Design of Jennifer Chow is playing at Melbourne Fringe Festival until Saturday 3rd October. For more information and to get tickets, go to the Melbourne Fringe Festival website.