By DAVID COLMAN
THE thousands of people who rallied this month to demand legislation to legitimize immigrant status achieved at least one goal: they made the country take notice of an issue often eclipsed by fashionable matters like obesity rates, antioxidant creams (or anti-antioxidant creams? one does get confused) or the Britney Spears bump.
Sarah Jones has been doing as much for the audiences at "Bridge and Tunnel," her one-woman Broadway show in which she portrays disenfranchised contestants at an all-immigrant poetry slam. As Ms. Jones, a native New Yorker, transforms her voice, face and body with awe-inspiring realness into her 14 tragicomic characters — including an elderly Jewish woman who is Polish-German-Lithuanian, a Dominican schoolteacher and the smooth Pakistani host — her work slices and dices a few genres as well.
She has been called a poet, a rapper, a comic, a performance artist, an activist, terms that cropped up in 2002, when she sued the Federal Communications Commission (and won) over a ruling that "Your Revolution," her explicit rap song about misogyny, was indecent.
It is hard to believe there could be more than one such multiple-personality artiste, but there are, and two of them collided years ago. It was in 2000 at the HBO Aspen Comedy Arts Festival, where Ms. Jones was receiving an award for another one-woman show, and her longtime idol, Robin Williams, was appearing. The two supercharged particles met in a hotel hallway and almost instantly exploded into a welter of voices and accents.
Then the star-struck Ms. Jones cast her eyes down and saw something she sincerely coveted: a pair of iridescent green sneakers designed for Puma by Jil Sander, the couture equivalent of the plain 14th Street Pumas she was wearing.
"So I told him, 'Wow, I want your shoes,' and he said, 'No, I want your shoes,' " she recalled. "And I said, 'No, I really want your shoes,' and he said, 'No, I really want your shoes.' " This went back and forth until finally Mr. Williams took off his shoes and handed them to her, and she did the same. "It was like this volcano of fun energy," she said, "and the lava came away in the form of these shoes, to extend the metaphor to a place it should never have gone."
Ms. Jones took the shoes and, because they're sneakers, ran. "The saddest part of the story is that we wear the same size shoe," she said. But it made the Cinderella story work. She still has the sneakers today and wears them often enough not to gather dust in the closet, revered but idle.
"At first, I thought, 'I am going to put them away and keep them perfect,' " she said. "But they make their way to Equinox."
While she loves the Pumas — she has been finicky about footwear since the age of 2 — they are also a token of the day she met her idol just as her career was taking off. What's more, the exchange that put them on her feet, ruby slipper-style, is a reminder that comedy is about going too far, about trampling perceived niceties and boundaries, an ethic Mr. Williams knows well.
"Of course, Robin is so funny," Ms. Jones said. "If he picks this up and reads it, he'll say, 'I gave that woman my shoes?' "
That's his tough luck. As anyone who makes an indelible impression knows only too well, you never get to take anything back.