Review: JENNIFER WHO IS LEAVING at Round House Theatre

An empathetic dark comedy that shines through its actors.

By: Apr. 12, 2023
Review: JENNIFER WHO IS LEAVING at Round House Theatre
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Jennifer Who Is Leaving, written and directed by Morgan Gould, is a snapshot into the lives of four vastly contrasting characters while all stuck in a Dunkin' Donuts on the side of a snow-ridden Massachusetts highway. This script makes a vital commentary on the expectations of women, the lengths women will go to make sure things get done, and what happens when one of them decides to flip the script.

Gould's setting brings the audience's walls down immediately, helped immensely by Paige Hathaway's scenic design. From when you first set eyes on this set, you know exactly where you are. Hatahway recreates the inside of a Dunkin' Donuts with ease, even down to the look of the countertops and the notorious laminated health and safety standards taped to the inside of the hallway to the back room. Paired with Andrea Moore's identical props, it's so familiar you feel as if you could walk up and order a dozen donuts right on the stage.

The four-person ensemble cast are exceptional in the work they do, not only bringing Gould's characters to life, but making them feel lived in from the moment the lights go up. We open with Nan (Nancy Robinette) on the phone with her husband as she is working the last of her night shift, gently coaxing him through basic day-to-day routines that you can assume he does not care enough to learn.

At a table to the side seats Joey (Floyd King), an older man stuck in this coffee shop with his caretaker, Jennifer (Kimberly Gilbert), due to their van breaking down on the side of the road after Jennifer drove an hour and a half in the wrong direction. It isn't until a bit later that we meet our last cast member, Lily (Annie Fang), a teenager who is being forced to work at the Dunkin' Donuts to pay for her SAT the next morning.

Throughout the next hour and a half, you watch these four interact with each other as the tension slowly builds between Jennifer and Joey as he mocks her, Nan and the frequent calls from her husband, and Lily and her insistent desire to study for the SAT and not end up like anyone stuck inside of that Dunkin' Donuts. Gould's writing brings each character to life through believable dialogue, drawing the audience in and making them empathize with the genuine characters on stage.

King does a thankless job of embodying our antagonist of this story, making it quite easy to get truly annoyed with Joey to the point when Jennifer breaks down, you cannot help but empathize with her after watching him berate her and Nan for the past hour. Fang sits in a similar position with Lily, not having been in a decent chunk of the show, but when she was on stage, she always felt like the missing piece of the puzzle.

Review: JENNIFER WHO IS LEAVING at Round House Theatre
Kimberly Gilbert (Jennifer) and Nancy Robinette (Nan) in Jennifer Who Is Leaving at Round House Theatre. Photo by Margot Schulman.

The show's message shines through the relationship between Robinette's Nan and Gilbert's Jennifer. Robinette makes us feel welcomed and warm within the roadside donut shop while pushing back a lot of frustration and resentment toward her retired husband. Every choice made by Robinette was natural and alluring to Nan as a character, the audience desperately rooting for her, making her moment with the tip jar all the more devastating in the end. The warmth radiating from Robinette gives a perfect path for Gilbert's contrasting building tension and anger. Watching the release of Gilbert's built up emotion throughout the play was cathartic to any woman watching the show. I feel that, in a different show, I could easily think Jennifer to be this horrible person who puts the surrounding people in a tough decision. But with Gould's writing and Gilbert's masterful acting, I've never understood a character's desperation more.

The only moment that took me out of this production found its way toward the end, when Lily's actress came onstage to give a monologue about a young couple in modern time. It was never clear whether this story was Lily's future or the relevance it had to the plot. While I can see it furthered the commentary of what standards are like in younger relationships (and how they still have the same issues Nan and Jennifer have), it felt out of place in the bigger picture.

Jennifer Who Is Leaving has left an impact on my perception of the expectations placed upon me and the relationships I have, particularly with men. A moment sticks out to me, something I couldn't shake after leaving last night. As Jennifer is breaking down, Nan goes to her and says, "Men are sensitive. We are strong. That's how the world works." To which Jennifer replies, "But why?" Within this interaction, we get the thesis of the show: we have always perceived women as sensitive and weak, while men are the strong caretakers when you find that it's the other way around. We place insane expectations on women to remain strong through thick or thin and always keep going - but why? Neither Nan nor Jennifer have the answer, but I'm thankful Gould asks the question.

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Jennifer Who Is Leaving plays at Round House Theatre through May 7th. The show runs approximately 1 hour and 25 minutes with no intermission.




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