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PlayMakers unveils new show, 'Jump,' detailing intersection of mental health and grief

Shanelle Nicole Leonard and April Mae Davis to star as Judy and Fay in JUMP by Charly Evon Simpson
Photo By Ken Huth
Buy Photos Shanelle Nicole Leonard and April Mae Davis to star as Judy and Fay in JUMP by Charly Evon Simpson Photo By Ken Huth

Grief is a powerful force, one that can bring people together and force them to confront uncomfortable truths about themselves. That is one of the main themes of the new PlayMakers Repertory Company show “Jump," premiering Jan. 26. 

"Jump" centers around Fay, played by graduate student April Mae Davis, a young woman who returns to her hometown to help her father following a death in the family. As the play continues, more information is revealed about Fay, her sister, her family and her mental health. 

“We start to kind of learn more about how Fay is experiencing the world and more about what happens when she’s forced to deal with a very hard truth about her sister,” Director Whitney White said. “It deals a lot with mental health; it deals a lot with how to repair family ties and how to connect with new people.”

The presence of mental health and grief as major plot points in the show is an element that drew White to “Jump” in the first place. Fay and her family are Black, and the possibility of portraying a non-white family in “a refreshing, honest and human way,” was appealing to the director.

“Charly (Evon Simpson), the playwright, has definitely written about a beautiful Black family that’s struggling with grief and loss,” Davis said. “We’re able to just come at it with the truth of these characters and the desires, just bringing out the desires of the characters that any human being can have. It just happens to be a Black family.” 

The play’s pivotal scene revolves around a bridge, shown in the play’s artwork. It is here that Fay will meet a stranger with whom she will find an unexpected connection, one she can bond with over their mental health issues.

“I think what’s really exciting is like we see two strangers connect IRL, like in real life,” White said. “There’s something so powerful and attractive and just hopeful about that. Everything is done on the internet now, and I think the possibility of connecting with a human in real life is one of the most powerful things you can see.”

Davis said all the different characters are involved with the bridge at some point, but the scene between Fay and the stranger is what will bring all the themes of the play together. It is here where the protagonist will have to reckon with the state of her own mental health and the truth of her reality. 

“Jump” is premiering at PlayMaker Repertory on Jan. 26, but Simpson has been working on and tweaking the show for months, using various different workshop productions. Jan. 26 will be the first time the show is put together with the full production value of a professional show.

Premiering new shows has been a goal of PlayMakers; the repertory is taking part of the National New Play Network Rolling World Premieres system, a program that helps new shows premiere at multiple locations. “Jump” will run at PlayMakers from Jan. 26 to Feb. 10 before moving to three additional theaters elsewhere in the country. 

arts@dailytarheel.com

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