Marie Brassard’s New York premiere of her one-person work, Jimmy is an absolute "must see." Short yet potent, it’s a small masterwork— a time, gender and genre bender that exemplifies the best of experimental theater. Imagine existing in another’s erotic dream, coming to life when someone conjures you up, changing form according to that dreamer’s whims and then being dropped into a dormant existence at dream’s end—to be resurrected again only when you are next dreamed of, possibly decades later. Imagine silently pleading that someone dream about you just so that you might fully exist once again, even though you might find yourself in a horrible place. That’s the universe of Jimmy.
The set is sparse, elevated—a non-set, really. As the audience filters in, Jimmy is already sitting, almost cowering on the stage, his back to the audience. He has long hair, is half-dressed and looks as if he has been defiled or violated in some manner. As the play begins, Jimmy rises, dresses and addresses the audience. Special effects are sparse but powerful, and consist mainly of background lighting and voice alteration.
“Jimmy” calls himself a “homosexual hairdresser” who came into existence in the erotic dream of a homophobic general in 1950. Jimmy is not a “person,” but an entity. In the dream, he was about to kiss Mitchell, a salon client, but the dream was interrupted when the General suffered a heart attack at the moment of orgasm. Fifty years later, resurrected in the unwanted dream of an actress from Montreal (Brassard), and stuck in an airplane toilet when she awoke, Jimmy spends his “existence” trying to unite with Mitchell, who himself may be a person or a persona. Jimmy does not know. In Jimmy’s world there are dreamers and those who are dreamed. It’s a kind of death to be dreamed and forgotten, much like how the dead must wait for someone to remember them.
In unskilled hands, this quasi sci-fi premise might veer into the merely silly. Ms. Brassard, however, makes this tale almost plausible, imbuing it with heartbreaking poignancy, poetic lyricism and even humor—a combination so very rare these days. A consummate artist, Brassard, with the assistance of P.S 122’s design team, alters her voice with special effects, deepening, slowing it down and slurring it to play the other-worldly Jimmy, and changing it at other times to sound like the effeminate prepubescent boy that the General had previously dreamed up—Jimmy as a child. At 60 minutes, the show lasts just long enough to sustain the content. Brassard wisely keeps it short, masterfully capturing and guiding us through the illogic and malleability of the dream state.
There has been a springtime spate of impressive plays featuring personas that operate in the fertile ground between being and nothingness; two that immediately come to mind are Nerve Tank’s A Gathering and Christina Campanella and Stephanie Fleischmann’s Red Fly/Blue Bottle. We should now add Jimmy to that distinguished company. Stop daydreaming and go see it.