There are two things every teenager knows are true: you can’t choose your parents and you can’t choose the jerks you go to school with. Such is life for Annie Jump in small-town Strawberry, Kansas. Already socially outcast because she’s a 13-year-old science genius and because her dad is not-so-affectionately known around town as Dr. Alien for his obsession with extraterrestrials, her young life is made worse when an unwelcome visitor crashes into town on a meteor. In Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven by Reina Hardy, Annie finds herself suddenly linked to an intergalactic supercomputer—taking the form of a popular girl who no one else can see or hear—that keeps following her around telling Annie to fulfill her destiny to the universe. Bizarre? Yes. Imaginative? Absolutely. Rorschach Theatre’s National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere of Annie Jump takes an animating look at how even one person can make a galaxy of a difference, and it is a zany ride.
In the title role of Annie Jump was the sweet and sympathetic Vanessa Chapoy. With a passion for science and a curiosity for the unknown (which includes a new boy in town), Annie is forced to balance quite literally the weight of the universe with her desires to be understood, accepted, and to find purpose here on Earth. With an invisible supercomputer popular girl constantly chirping in her ear, Chapoy’s Annie was a charming mixture of camp, exasperation, and determination.
Playing said intergalactic supercomputer, knower of all, and one who just feels her look was the sharp Emily Whitworth as Althea. An entertaining blend of mean girl and robot sprinkled with some serious stardust attitude, Whitworth’s Althea was a highlight of the evening for me. With countless flatly delivered digs and judgmentally swiveling looks, Althea pushed Annie towards the stars.
Often the target of Althea’s remarks was new guy and on-again-off-again crush of Annie’s, KJ Urbanik, played by Aron Spellane. A little unsure, a little flirty, a whole lot awkward, Spellane nimbly steered KJ’s considerable growth throughout the show. It was entertaining to watch KJ grapple with his actions and the choices he made as a result of an immature prank that got out of hand.
Rounding out the small cast were the adults in Annie’s life, her father Dr. Jump (Zach Brewster-Geisz) and the local science teacher Mrs. Gomez (Robin Covington). Supportive of Annie in every way they could be, and displaying an endearing array of personal quirks in the process, it was impossible to miss how their passions had influenced Annie. From a love of the stars to boundless academic encouragement, it was obvious how much they recognized a special spark in her long before she chose it for herself.
Directed by Medha Marsten, this fanciful production made a lot of smart choices in the small black box theater at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Playing with levels, space, and technology around the room, Annie Jump took the audience on an intergalactic journey that lived up to the immersive theme of the Rorschach Theatre mission. From the mobile and jaunty set design by Matt Wolfe to the creative use of projection, screens, and shadow by Kylos Brannon’s video design and Katie McCreary’s lighting design, this production of Annie Jump had core elements of science fiction seeped into its bones.
A quirky, whimsical tale of growing up and growing together despite the odds, Annie Jump looks at the choices that we make in our lives and how finding our place in the universe is both a blessing and sacrifice. Luckily for us though, thanks to Rorschach Theatre, we don’t have to leave the planet to enjoy a trip around the universe to see how we belong.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven, presented by Rorschach Theatre, plays through May 19, 2019, at the Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 399-7993, or purchase them online.
Julie Cray Leong, Costume Design; Veronica J. Lancaster, Sound Design; Alex Wade, Props