It is plays like Lisa McGee's Jump! that make you wish theater had a rewind button. This fragmented narrative contains a mosaic of interconnected scenes that eventually merge to form a darkly comedic tale of six strangers who find their lives intersecting in the most unexpected ways. Structured in the same nonlinear style as movies such as Pulp Fiction and Memento, Jump! moves back and forth through time, interweaving a series of ridiculously coincidental moments that all take place in the final hours of New Year's Eve. The story's unconventional storytelling method demands that you pay attention from the very beginning. To ensure that we do, the first line of dialogue is shrieked by a drunken Staten Island woman named Hannah (Meredith Zinner), who screams "Happy New Year!" into a nearly empty bar before darting outside. Only one man, Ross (Jordan Gelber), is there to hear her. He sits alone, drinking beer and nervously cracking the shells off peanuts.
He is soon joined by his skittish friend Johnny (Stephen Plunkett), who stumbles in with an orange gym bag containing a gun. We learn that a string of bad gambling choices has saddled them with a debt too large to pay back. And so they have been strong-armed into being hit men, with their target a man named Pearce (Tim Spears) who apparently owes more money than they do.
But Jump! is a comedy, and so even as tragedy unfolds, the story remains upbeat and witty, with zinging one-liners, zany characters, and top-notch acting to keep it afloat. Plunkett and Gelber make the most of their bumbling hit men shtick, especially in a scene where Ross insists that a tightly wound Johnny play the Madonna CD they found in their hot-wired car. And Ali Marsh, Sarah Grace Wilson, and Zinner are delightfully over the top as three Staten Island barflies, throwing back tequilas, trading snappy remarks, and bonding over their mutual disdain for a former friend, Greta (Bree Elrod), who has mysteriously backed out of their New Year's Eve plans.
It is important to absorb every detail of the women's drunken blathering, as their slurred speech contains important clues to the story's outcome. The second time Hannah shrieks "Happy New Year!" antennas should go up. The phrase now has an entirely different meaning, serving as the moment where past, present, and future are about to converge.
But despite its nonlinear structure, Jump! is not a difficult story to understand. McGee hides her clues the way parents hide Easter eggs, in really obvious places where they know the kids will look. She basically gives us the ending but keeps us guessing about how we are going to get there. As the play nears its climax, the key scenes start to fold into each other, and everything comes together nicely save for one annoying plot point that doesn't seem to fit where we know it belongs. McGee wisely waits until the very last second to show us where it goes.
In this respect, Jump! feels like an interactive experience. When the final piece is revealed to us, those who instantly figure it out will have to laugh at the cleverness of the plotting, whereas those staring blankly at the stage will probably still be piecing it together. Amusingly, when the lights came up and the audience was filing out, a chorus of voices suddenly exclaimed, "Oh, now I get it!," followed by delayed laughter.
Fortunately, Jump! lends itself to a second watching. It is short, quick, intermission-less, and so engrossing that it is over before you know it. And once it is, you'll have trouble resisting the urge to dump the puzzle pieces back on the floor and solve it all over again.