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February 20, 2024
Who is Jonah?

Who is Jonah? Is he the awkward, bumbling sweet young man infatuated with Ana (Gabby Beans) or is he symbolic of something more? During the first part of the Roundabout Theatre Company's production of “Jonah,” I was charmed by him (newcomer Hagan Oliveras).) He appears to be a sweet, innocent young man. But then when some strange optical stage effects occurred, I was bewildered. It was so puzzling that I went home and read other critics’ reviews afterwards, something I rarely do, hoping for some answers. Some of those reviewers sounded like they ‘got it.’ I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn't (unless it’s a case of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”)

Is Jonah who and what he appears to be? And then again, how much does it matter? The 100 minute drama by the playwright Rachel Bonds is about intimacy, sexuality, abuse and religion.

Time passes in Ana's life and the lines are blurry, yet the subtle hints are there. If you don’t pay attention, you could miss the comment or incident that makes it apparent. Ana’s mother has sent her to boarding school where she meets Jonah. Then Ana is confident and a bit flirty, even flashing him at the end of their first meeting. He’s a bit awkward, which makes him endearing. The two exchange fantasies and eventually enter into a relationship. She appears to be in control as their relationship progresses.

The scene changes when another man appears in her room. It becomes apparent that he is Danny, her step-brother whose father is abusive. Danny is protective and menacing at the same time. (Well-played by Samuel Henry Levine) Reluctantly Ana enters into a physical relationship with him. Their relationship is a mix of nurturing and predatory.

Ana’s story is told through her interactions with three male figures in her life. First it’s Jonah. Later it’s her step-brother Danny, loving and menacing. Her step father abuses Danny and we see the passage of time through each new injury. Later even more time has passed when Ana is at retreat. Steven (John Zdrojeski) comes to her door with food since she’s missed dinner. He’s dorky and a bit of a stalker, in a sense reminiscent of Jonah. As they talk, he comments on how much he liked her book. A signal that time has passed. As her stay at the retreat continues, the two get closer and she reveals more about herself and her life, somewhat clarifying things

Beans is compelling as Ana who turns to writing to get her feelings out. Although she never ages and the set itself, that of a bedroom with an adjoining desk and bookcase, never changes, Ana changes and Beans conveys her wariness well. The storyline and character development are done superbly by the playwright Rachel Bonds. Those who need a story wrap up by the end get to hear Ana share her story with Steven.

Directed by Danya Taymor, the play examines serious topics. With good performances and excellent writing, “Jonah” provides viewers with some meaty ideas to discuss-including the nature of Jonah himself. Is Jonah what he appears to be or is he a fantasy, a product of her writer’s fertile mind?

Laura Pels
111 W.46 Street
New York, NY

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Written by: Elyse Trevers
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