The Solid Center of 'Intelligent Design'

Eunice Wong on the set of
Eunice Wong on the set of "The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow." She's drawn enthusiastic praise for her performance in the play's demanding lead role. (Photos By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 31, 2005

Her favorite moment of the show is the five-second blackout at the end, before the lights come up for the curtain call, when the audience knows it's over but is too shy (or raw) to clap.

In that dark, delicious silence, she sheds the skin of Jennifer Marcus, the agoraphobic obsessive-compulsive who conducts her life via ethernet in "The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow" at Studio Theatre. When the lights pop back on, she stands from her desk, bleary-eyed from Jenny's meltdown in the last scene, and greets the instantaneous standing ovation as Eunice Wong, mild-mannered actress.

"She's got a bright future," a throaty voice predicts on the way out.

"That performance is unbelievable," murmurs a white-haired lady, dabbing her eye with a balled-up hankie.

Back in the greenroom Sunday night, Wong plucks out her contacts and slides black-rimmed glasses onto her full-moon face. She's got an 11:45 p.m. Greyhound to Manhattan to catch. Checks to deposit, rent to pay, vitamins to buy, then back to Washington on Wednesday for more "Jenny Chow," which has been extended through Aug. 14. She scoops makeup paraphernalia into a plastic bag.

"I don't really wear makeup for this show since I sweat like a pig," she says, shaping her shiny black hair into a ponytail. "It just doesn't stay on my face."

For Wong, 28, the show is a two-hour sprint. The only time she leaves the stage is to reenter seconds later through a different door. When the lights come up at the top of the show, she is perched at the desk as 22-year-old Jennifer Marcus, fingers tap-dancing on a computer keyboard, vocalizing her Instant Message conversation with the rat-a-tat delivery of a machine gun.

Then she engages in the cyber-seduction of a Mormon missionary who's tracking down Jenny's birth parents in China.

Then talks hands-free to a defense contractor who supplies her with robot parts in exchange for help rearranging missile components.

Then has screeching matches with her workaholic-alcoholic mother, who can't understand why she wants to find her biological parents.

Then builds a sentient robot to fly to China to look for them.

In between, there are the extensive, "Hamlet"-esque monologues with a hysterical modern bent. The compulsive hand-washing and flossing, the Lysoling of every doorknob and tabletop. The panicking when forced to step outside her house. And, finally, the devastating burnout just before the blackout.

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