Talk about embracing the problems. The latest thing to come to Los Angeles is “Coke-free J.A.P.,” a one-woman show in which 31-year-old writer and actress Fielding (née Elizabeth) Edlow brings to life a potty-mouthed, newly sober, cocaine-craving self-described Jewish American princess. The character, Sage Saperstein, is a 22-year-old J.A.P. She is also, by her own account, a raging slut, a recovering drug addict and — with her russet ringlets, pouty lips and short yet deliciously zaftig frame — a cross between Barbara Hershey and a bloated Minnie Driver, with a sprinkling of Björk. She’s currently 92-days clean, on 150 milligrams of the anti-depressant Effexor, and gearing up with every ounce of forced fervor for her first blind date with Robbie, a nice gentile boy from the Midwest whom she met over the Internet.
The show is not for the faint of heart. But it’s precisely it’s “out-there” quality that provides great catharsis for its gifted playwright, who, while never a coke addict, battled a booze habit that began when she was a sexually charged nymphet growing up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and attending the tony Spence School (Gwyneth Paltrow was in the grade above) and Trinity School. And what about the J.A.P. moniker?
“I used to be socially turned off by that word,” conceded Edlow, who took several Jewish Studies courses while she was an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, and whose family belongs to Fifth Avenue’s see-and-be-seen Temple Emanuel.
“I think the idea of J.A.P. comes from a sense of entitlement,” she said in an interview with the Forward. “It’s a particular Jewish woman who expects that things will be done for her and she doesn’t have to work for it, and that’s one of the things I don’t like about Sage. She doesn’t really do the work.” Edlow’s play touches on the side of J.A.P rarely explored: the idea that some of these so-called princesses are really just coddled rich kids who lack the life skills necessary to live.
Edlow herself has done the work. Sober now seven years, she channels much of her own mishegas through Sage, her brutally self-aware, neurotic misfit of an alter ego, whom she defines as “a hyper-sensitive wild animal.” And yet Edlow resists labeling the play, which evolved from journal entries and enjoyed an award-winning run at the 2001 NYC Fringe Festival, as autobiographical.
“I think it’s a misnomer,” the real-life daughter of a Wall Street tycoon dad and therapist mom insisted. “It’s an amalgam of a lot of experiences I had growing up and a lot of people I knew. But we have very distinct differences. In fact, I learn from Sage all the time. There are things that she does that I would never do. I would certainly never go out on that date. And I would hope that somebody would check me into an institution if I had.”
On that infamous date, chivalrous Robbie, the invisible Internet date whom we get to know through Sage’s cutting repartee — “I don’t do well with things that breathe,” she alerts him before they’ve even ordered — takes an immediate liking to nutty Sage. He presents her with a copy of “Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties,” co-authored by Rainer Maria Rilke. And she presents him with a multiple-choice quiz testing his Relationship Commitment IQ. The irony, of course, is that Sage is the one struggling with intimacy issues, and it’s during her West Village dinner with Robbie that our girl with a “see-through heart” blasts full throttle into a comfortable yet dysfunctional self-sabotage mode.
“Sage keeps telling Robbie not to hold her,” Edlow explained, “[when] really all she wants is to be held. But who knows if she could physically and emotionally sustain someone holding her?”
What is holding up strongly are box office sales for “Coke-free J.A.P.,” and there are plans to adapt it as a cable TV series in which Sage’s parents cut her off and she’s forced to land a job as a temp.
“It’s the anti-‘Sex and the City,’” Edlow said. “Sage will grow up, earn 22 grand a year and be forced to buy thrift store shoes.” And what of Robbie, the milk-fed Midwesterner who hopes to sweep Sage off her barely planted feet? “He comes from a different world, so she’s fascinated by him,” Edlow said with a wink, “but ultimately she’ll wind up with a Jewish boy.”
Malina Sarah Saval is a writer living in Los Angeles.