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Meager ingredients cook up unsatisfying 'Chow'

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THE INTELLIGENT DESIGN OF JENNY CHOWAtlantic Theater, 336 W. 20th St.; (212) 239-6200. Through Oct. 15.

E-MAIL may have become an essential aspect of our daily lives, but as a theatrical device it leaves a lot to be desired.

For far too much of the running time of "The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow" - which has nothing to do with creation theory, by the way - the central character sits center stage, typing on a keyboard while reciting the words aloud.

If the audience members didn't have to shut off their electronic devices during the performance, they might resort to checking their e-mail themselves.

Rolin Jones' play concerns an agoraphobic 22-year-old Asian-American woman, Jennifer Marcus (Julienne Hanzelka Kim), whose principal contact with the outside world, other than her adoptive parents and the friendly pizza deliveryman, consists of her computer exchanges with scientists eager to exploit her geniuslike capabilities.

Jennifer's relationship with her parents, particularly her unsympathetic mother (Linda Gehringer), is a troubled one. In an effort to find her birth parents, who live in China, she creates an android alter-ego, Jenny Chow (Eunice Wong), to make the journey for her.

What strives to be a sensitive examination of its angst-ridden soul becomes buried under an oppressive air of whimsy that's encouraged by director Jackson Gay's cutesy staging.

Although reasonably engrossing at first, "Jenny Chow" becomes more grating as it lapses into the fantastical, until it comes across like an inspirational "After School Special."

Not helping matters is Kim's hyperactive performance, which seems more appropriate for a perky teen than a troubled young woman. Faring much better are Gehringer, who brings a real edge to her portrayal of the frustrated mom, and Remy Auberjonois, who provides much needed comic relief as Jennifer's various e-mail correspondents.

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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