Karen Valby
April 09, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Sarah Jones, the ridiculously talented playwright-poet-star of the one-woman show Bridge & Tunnel, has some friends she’d like you to meet. There’s Mohammed Ali, the sweet and bumbling Pakistani host of a South Queens poetry night. And Mrs. Ling, the prim Chinese mother who shares with the audience her slow acceptance and eventual embrace of her lesbian daughter. Lorraine Levine is a Long Island mall walker whose grandson wants to play rap at his bar mitzvah; her protest poem ”No Really Please Don’t Get Up” is dedicated to all those subway riders and their limp offers of seats. Jones has 14 immigrant friends living inside her head, all with urgent stories of assimilation that need telling. (And with famous pal and producer Meryl Streep lending her name and financial support to B&T here in the real world, Jones really does keep terrific company.)

The set, all bold slashes of graffiti art, is electric. Jones, however, could capture a crowd’s attention standing out on a street corner. She’s a beautiful woman, long and angular, calmly smoothing out her tight bun in between characters. And when she moves seamlessly between each role, well, that quick, elegant process is art in itself. Marvel as she changes in the shadows from parka to cheap suit coat to grandmother’s baggy sweater. Her shoulders round, her neck tightens and juts, her jaw slides, and she turns back into the light a new person. This would all be just a neat trick if Jones weren’t such an intelligent writer and actress. But she’s funny and empathetic, in complete control of the slightest gestures and tics and inflections.

Jones belongs on stage or on screen — she demands an audience. It’d be great fun to next see her playing off other actors, collaborating with people who can feed and challenge her impressive skills. But will Hollywood know what to do with this marvelous woman?

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