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Review – ‘Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter’ at Santa Rosa Junior College

In our relentless, fast-paced society, taking time to figure out how to cope with problems such as addiction or health conditions is overwhelming. Jenny Sutter is a former marine who finds herself at a lonely bus stop, unable to take the final step that will lead her home. She is not ready for the stress of civilian life and responsibilities; she watches bus after bus go by while paralyzed to act.

Through the kindly intervention of Lou, Jenny finds herself in Slab City, the remnants of Camp Dunlap, a World War II base, which has grown into a supportive community searching for a quiet, off the grid home. Whether working through psychological trauma, struggling with financial difficulties, or simply tired of a tedious existence, the motley assortment of strangers has come together in a jumble of plastic dolls, RVs, beer can wind chimes, and luridly colored metal sculptures, brought to life through projections by Vince Mothersbaugh and Julia Kwitchoff’s mobile set design.

The eccentric residents help Jenny process her transition, from Buddy’s wistful sermons, “lonely comes in all kinds of different colors” to Donald’s brusque attitude and pointed rejection of her inebriated flirting. Lou, whose compulsive desires lead easily into an addictive lifestyle, struggles to maintain a “boring” existence, and discovers genuine friendship with Jenny through their mutual troubles.

Julie Marie Myatt has written a reflective journey with tender and challenging moments. It falters with a heavy-handed use of narration and structure, gathering strength from quieter, interaction driven scenes, such as Buddy and Lou sharing a silent embrace in front of the television, or Jenny waking up from a nightmare to find Lou beside her, grounding the terror in a safe environment. Wendy Wisely’s direction emphasizes the subtle emotions at play, and although there are times it feels artificial, the overall concept is effective. Sound design by Kris Hoskins and Theo Bridant create the noisy halls of a military base, squealing buses, and desert atmosphere.

Allison Paine portrays a tightly wound Jenny Sutter struggling to accept who she has become, hiding her frustration behind a mask of bravado. Wild child Lou (Jisaela Tenney) takes Jenny under her wing, introducing her to the rag-tag settlement and its quirky characters. In Slab City, people take on the roles they feel fit their personalities, which has transformed the gentle Buddy (Michael Arbitter) into a spiritual leader. His wisdom comes from an incorrigible affection for humanity, despite his damaging childhood.

Supporting veterans as they re-integrate into society by allowing them the time to transition is crucial; at Santa Rosa Junior College there are hundreds of students who are veterans or reservists. Finding a way to welcome them home without expectations is explored in Jenny’s story, through the unlikely outcasts of Slab City. “Let time be your friend” suggests Myatt.

Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter

Presented by Santa Rosa Junior College Theatre Arts through March 18, 2018 Wed/Thurs/Fri/Sat at 8:00pm, Sat/Sun at 2:00pm

Newman Auditorium in the Emeritus Hall Elliott Avenue on the Santa Rosa Campus (707) 527-4307

Photos by Jeff Thomas

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