The latest NJ Repertory Company production is heartwarming
Actress/playwright Jodi Long has brought to the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch her one-woman show, Surfing My DNA. It is a combination of a loving yet clear-eyed reminiscence of her parents, Larry and Trudie Long, entertainers in the 1940s and 50s, and her search for more knowledge of her ancestors and thus herself. Although there were still a few rough patches in the preview performance I attended, the play is genuinely heartwarming
The highlight of Larry and Trudy Long’s career as an “exotic” vaudeville and cabaret act was a 1950 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. After Trudie retired from show business, Larry appeared in the musical Flower Drum Song both as a replacement on Broadway and in leading parts on the road. Jodi Long’s own acting career started at the age of seven in the musical Nowhere To Go But Up and includes work on stage, screen, and television.
Under the direction of Eric Rosen, Miss Long transitions smoothly from one anecdote to the next. The DNA that she surfs is not only her genetic inheritance but also her emotional and professional “DNA”, the internal imprints made by her family experiences and her show business career. Miss Long’s affection for and understanding of her parents shines through. She shifts easily into the personas of her father, her mother, other assorted family members, her mother’s post-divorce boyfriend “Uncle Chuy,” and younger versions of herself. Able accompaniment is supplied by composer/musician Yukio Tsuii, who performs onstage throughout the show.
Scenic designer Jessica Parks has created an open, multi-level set, enhanced by the lighting of Jill Nagle. Scenic projections give views of places Miss Long and her family lived, display posters of her parents’ appearances, and show a grainy video clip of her parents’ appearance on the Sullivan show.
Surfing My DNA is not the perfect play. However, it is a loving portrayal of a family and a sometimes funny, sometimes poignant life journey of actress and playwright Jodi Long. As such, it will provide you with an often moving experience in the theatre. If this appeals to you, you will not go wrong by attending a performance of Surfing My DNA.