Sarah Jones is a tremendously talented performer. Her uncanny ability to channel dozens of New York oddballs, from an older Jewish woman, to a Dominican six year old, to a Pakistani poet in her lively Bridge & Tunnel, is astounding. Originally rising to prominence in 2000 with her edgier Surface Transit at P.S. 122, Jones hit the jackpot when Meryl Streep became a co-producer and major vocal supporter of Bridge & Tunnel’s successful Off-Broadway run at the Culture Project.
But I’ve often wondered why I don’t warm to Jones’ work. One of the conclusions I’ve come to, is that I never get a strong sense of who “Sarah Jones” is in her work. Richard Pryor had a relationship with the characters he portrayed; they were people he’d known — pimp, his white agent’s family — or facets of his own personality. You feel vividly who Pryor himself is in relation to these people, and the characterizations cut to the bone. It’s something you feel to an extent with Sarah Silverman or even Larry David — their personalities add heft to the material. Often with Jones I feel she is simply mimicking (expertly) the mannerisms and cadences of others. But what does she really think about them, how do they touch her personally? I never really know, and so am rarely moved. Jones is an astounding performer, and this Broadway debut is often very enjoyable. I just wish her talent was used to reach deeper beneath the surface of the fascinating characters she portrays.