AISLE SAY San Francisco


Music by Andrew Lippa
Lyrics by Tom Greenwald
Book by Tom Greenwald & Andrew Lippa
Directed by Jay Manley
Presented by Hillbarn Theatre
1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City, CA / (650) 349-6411

Reviewed by Judy Richter

"John & Jen" (also written as "john & jen"), an intimate musical presented by Hillbarn Theatre, may be seen as an intriguing psychological study in family dynamics.

With just two characters, it covers 38 years in the life of a woman, Jen (Alicia Teeter), starting in 1952, when she's 6 years old and welcoming her newborn brother, John (William Giammona), into the world. On Christmas Eve five years later, it's apparent that their parents don't get along and that their father is abusive.

Other transitions follow until Jen is 18 and goes off to college in 1964, leaving her despairing brother behind. In subsequent years, she becomes a hippie and peacenik, moving to Canada with her draft-dodging boyfriend, while John becomes closer to their father. In 1970, when John is 18, he enlists in the Navy and is killed in Vietnam at the age of 19, much to Jen's sorrow.

Two years later, Jen has given birth to a son, whom she names John. Sometime after that, the boy's father leaves. In the meantime, Jen seems determined to turn her son into her brother's reincarnation. As he grows older, he resents those efforts, which impede his ability to follow his own path. Ultimately, she sees the light as he heads off to college.

With a book by Tom Greenwald and Andrew Lippa, much of the story is told through songs with music by Lippa and lyrics by Greenwald. It takes place on an uncluttered set created by Robert Broadfoot with lighting by Aya Matsutomo and sound by Alan Chang. The actors are onstage almost the entire two acts. Transitions are achieved through slight changes of clothing (costumes by Mae Matos). Helpful projections name the year and characters' ages.

Director Jay Manley guides the two with intelligence and sensitivity. Although Teeter may seem to have the easier role because she's the same person in both acts, she has some of the more demanding -- well sung -- and goes on a longer emotional journey. On the other hand, Giammona has the challenge of being an adult man portraying a child or teenager. Both actors succeed.

The songs are all pleasant though not particularly memorable. Sitting on the right with a cellist and percussionist, Graham Sobelman serves as musical director and keyboardist.

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