"January Joiner"

By David A. Rosenberg

The triumph of technique over content infects Laura Jacqmin’s “January Joiner,” having its world premiere at Long Wharf. Narelle Sissons’ setting of sleek, cold panels is just the ticket for this “weight loss horror comedy.” But Jacqmin fails to focus her work or concentrate on a protagonist.


Of her six characters in search of an author, three have come to this Florida spa to lose weight under the tutelage of two trainers: the nasty, frustrated, blonde April and the kind, loving, buff Brian. The overweight clients are Terry, her supportive sister Myrtle and the friendly Darnell who returns to the spa often, seeking companionship not weight loss.


There’s a fourth visitor, listed in the program as “Not-Terry.” She illustrates the author’s concerns about what happens when we change our physical image. Do we then change ourselves? “We are not the same,” says April to Darnell. Her insides may be a mess, she says, “but you can’t tell on the outside, and that’s what counts.”


The play buys into our current obsession with obesity, with who’s “the biggest loser.” But the stage demands someone to root for, someone to care about. Jacqmin’s work is so cursory, so filled with side-trips (a talking vending machine, a knife-wielding ghoul) that the evening explodes without being explosive.


Director Eric Ting is a whiz with this sort of visual overload but these are unlikable, unknowable people existing in situations that lack tension. The acting is fine all around but the most telling lines come towards the end when Myrtle asks “That’s really all there is?” Darnell answers, “Everyone still just goes home.”


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