Red threads of connection

Jade Heart at Moxie

Jade Heart

  • Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Boulevard, Suite N, Rolando
  • $15 - $27

I doubt that Jade Heart playwright Will Cooper could ask for a better production than Moxie’s. The play, about a Chinese orphan adopted by an American mother, is relentlessly nonlinear and needlessly convoluted. The fits and starts would be less troublesome if the scenes had more development. Instead, many just hit and flee. Jade McCullough ages, then youthens, then adults, then wears swaddling. The playwright’s jazzy form – which unfolds like it wants to be a movie — gets in its own way.

When Jade Heart premiered in Chicago, it ran 90 minutes. For Moxie, someone had the sense to break it in half. The intermission gives spectators the chance to sort things out.

In September, 1980, to stem runaway population growth, China enacted a “one child policy.” Married couples could only have a single offspring. And since the culture valued men over women, parents put up infant daughters for adoption — or abandoned them by the thousands. These became “lost girls.”

Jade McCullough was one. The play follows the two decade-long quest for her identity — and her mother’s attempts to thwart it. Brenda wants an “all-American” girl. Jade wants to reconnect with her birth mother in China. A “memory stone,” half of a jade heart, serves as a talisman of her lost origin.

Artistic director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg has an unerring eye for new talent: Yolanda Franklin landed one of her first major roles here, as did (recently married) Cashae Monya. Turner Sonnenberg’s current “find” is Dana Wing Lau. Jade has nine jumbled lives, and the actor must shift from one to another in the time it takes to pull a different coat from a carved teakwood trunk.

As a testament to her efforts, it’s hard to tell how old Wing Lau actually is. Each age rings emotionally true.

Julie Sachs has an unenviable task: for much of the play, Brenda is a controlling nay-sayer determined to block the door to her daughter’s Chinese origins. So Sachs must bicker more than necessary. To her credit, she humanizes Brenda long before the play cuts her some slack.

Albert Park, Dana Byrne, and Joyce Lai play multiple roles effectively — and Lai adds to Emily Jankowski’s soundscape with mystical vocals.

Natalie Khuen’s set is a work of art. Maybe 30 thick strings — as if for a giant’s zither — shoot horizontal lines across the stage. Vertical lines intersect stage right. (Khuen also did the spare and eloquent scenic design for Slegehammer’s recent Happy Days.)

The design not only arrests, it underscores the plays themes: diverse and overlapping cultures, and the red threads of connection Jade fearlessly tries to achieve.

Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Boulevard, college area, playing through August 10. www.moxietheatre.com.

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