Posted 1/26/2006 9:42 PM Updated 1/27/2006 2:34 AM

'Bridge' tunnels through issues
By Elysa Gardner, USA TODAY

NEW YORK — The term "bridge and tunnel" is used snidely by some
Manhattanites to refer to commuters from the less-hip outer boroughs and

Jones does her best Linda Richman impression as
Lorraine Levine in Bridge & Tunnel.

But thanks to a force of urban nature named Sarah Jones, that perception could shift. Jones' new onewoman, 15-character show, which opened Thursday at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre, is
called Bridge & Tunnel (* * * ½ out of four). And it's every bit as fresh and forward-thinking as it was
when Jones delivered it to downtown crowds during an acclaimed off-Broadway run in 2004.

Jones' multicultural monologues — delivered by male and female immigrants of various ages and races who gather in a Queens cafe to recite their own poems — fit firmly in the context of a world after 9/11, with Jones wearing her heart and social conscience on her sleeve. From Muhammed, the sweetly goofy Pakistani accountant who hosts the event, to Mrs. Ling, a soft-spoken Chinese matron who becomes an unlikely advocate for gay rights, her expertly realized characters have clearly struggled and sacrificed.

Bridge has been amended only slightly, and the original material seems as topical as it did two years back, if not more so. The plight of a Mexican union organizer crippled in a labor accident is especially poignant after the tragic deaths of coal miners earlier this month. And the panicked cellphone calls that Muhammed fields from his wife, who is concerned that he's under federal investigation, have added resonance in light of the controversy over wiretapping by the National Security Agency.

The weight of these questions, and the earnestness that Jones applies in considering them, is balanced by her often irreverent but always good-natured humor. Rashid, a fledgling rapper from Brooklyn, tells the immigrants, "I can relate as a black man, even though I was born here. 'Cause it's like, aight, see, black people ... we got imported. Y'all get deported."

Lorraine Levine, an arthritic Jewish grandmother, feels a similar kinship with the others. "I'm happy to
be here tonight appearing alongside Moslems!" she enthuses, later adding, more soberly, "When my family came here — from Eastern Europe — they were saying the same thing about us immigrants that they say about you now. ... Nobody wanted you around."

Certainly, the world could use more of the wit, warmth and profound empathy that Jones' Bridge is built on.

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