Acting is not an easy trade, and yet somehow, kids like Reese J. Parish, a junior at Nicolet High School, can do it well alongside the aging and veteran. Parish plays 13-year-old Annie Jump (named after American astronomer Annie Jump Cannon) in Renaissance Theaterworks’ new production of Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven, a new play by Reina Hardy that revolves around a tight circle of characters.
Annie is a young genius with the key to her school’s chemistry lab. She lives in Strawberry, Kansas, and loves the dark skies (a desirable rating of “2”) and room to think. Her father, Dr. Jump, maintains a website asking aliens to reach out and fulfill his dream of making first contact. He’d like to jump aboard a UFO, but all the jumping he seems to do is on and off his medication. Although grandparents have repeatedly sued for custody of Annie, father and daughter have a strong bond.
At the beginning of the play, Dr. Jump (Jonathan Gillard Daly) announces that he has finally received a missive from above, and it’s no great spoiler to say this isn’t really true. But something mysterious does actually happen to Annie, who being more reality-based than her pa, thinks the apparition that has appeared before her to be a hallucination. This “person” is Althea, played by Rachael Zientek, who is a manifestation of the Library of Heaven, a great database in the sky that contains all information and possible learning.
Annie Jump isn’t invested in the most precise area of science, but it does a fine job grabbing texture from fields here and there. Annie quizzes Althea to see if she truly does know everything and asks for the first line of Andrew Wiles’ proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, which is probably the last reference to that nugget one will ever see in drama. Andrew Wiles is a mathematician who in the mid-1990s proved a centuries-old hypothesis that many (if not most) of his colleagues thought to be unprovable. I hate to say the play has “nerd cred,” but there it is.
Althea, who can be paradoxically human and haphazard, has a Douglas Adams vibe. As a manifestation of the library, she both knows it all and acts like a know-it-all. A third young character, K.J. Urbanik (Jarrod Langwinski), seems like an antagonist and a punk at the outset, but his role deepens as the story goes on. Ultimately, Annie will have to choose between her new role in the universe and her old one in Strawberry.
Directed by Pam Kriger, the production captures the play’s warmth and crispness, and there’s a lingering resonance in its explanation for why the Library has sought out a child and not a full-powered adult. Children have the power of not being believed: People expect them to dream.
Go See It: Annie Jump runs through April 21.