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Jonah

Coming of age story about Ana over 20 years and the three men in her life.

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Gabby Beans as Ana and Hagan Oliveras as Jonah in a scene from Rachel Bonds’ “Jonah” at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

[avatar user=”Victor Gluck” size=”96″ align=”left”] Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief[/avatar]

Rachel Bonds’ Jonah, being given its world premiere at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre, is a coming of age story of the sort that used to be called an ”After School Special.” The title is either a metaphor or misnomer as it really should be called “Ana and the Men in Her Life” which would be more accurate. While Jonah is one of three male characters who are sweet on Ana, he has the least on-stage time and disappears for a great deal of the play. However, he could represent love lost and so may be iconic for the heroine.

Jonah covers 20 years in the life of a young woman who eventually becomes a professional writer, from the time she is in high school as a teenager to her being chosen for a writers’ retreat after her first book of fiction is published. While the set by Wilson Chin remains the same, the gimmick is that in each scene it becomes Ana’s bedroom someplace else: a boarding school dorm room, a bedroom in a house in the suburbs of Detroit, a college dorm room in Michigan, and a bedroom at a remote writers’ residency somewhere in the woods. However, the scenes are not told in strict chronological order: at least one scene is a flashback set before Ana’s time at boarding school and one scene jumps ahead into the future before the story’s timeline gets there. While this is not clear initially, it is revealed by the end when Ana describes her earlier life to a fellow member of the writers’ retreat.

We first meet Ana on the way to the student center to get some candy before curfew at her dorm when she is stopped by Jonah, a day student who lives at home with his father. Jonah wants to get to know Ana better. By the third scene he has managed to get into her dorm room. A sweet guy, he is inexperienced and socially awkward, no more so than Ana who is also a virgin. We next meet sinister, threatening Danny back in Detroit who turns out to be Ana’s step-brother, both suffering from life with an abusive father and step-father, Ana’s mother having died. Not only is Danny out of control he also has feelings for Ana he can’t put a lid on. On the other hand, he is very protective of her from his violent father.

Gabby Beans as Ana and Samuel Henry Levine as Danny in a scene from Rachel Bonds’ “Jonah” at the Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Finally years later, we meet Ana in her dorm room at the writers’ retreat where she is attempting to write her second book. She is interrupted by another resident, Steven, a journalist and lapsed Mormon, who is sweet on her but has intimacy issues. Ana who has been avoiding socializing with the other writers at meals seems to be rather stand-offish but Steven’s innate goodness and honesty breaks down her resistance. We never do find out what happened between Ana and Jonah, but he seems to have come to represent the kind of relationship she had wanted. We do however find out how the other two relationships turn out.

The play is best at its mysteries which are only slowly revealed. However, audience members may be confused part of the time as to the sequence of events and the relationships. A great deal is never resolved. The scene transitions are accompanied by blaring sound and flashing lights (sound by Kate Marvin; lighting by Amith Chandrashaker) which at times suggest that at least one or more scenes may be fantasies. The costumes by Kaye Voyce remain basically the same but Gabby Beans as Ana seems to grow in poise and maturity though very subtly from teenager to adulthood. Although set at first 20 years ago, the male characters often talk of permission for intimacy, something that was not common parlance that long ago.

While none of the dialogue or the ideas are that original or that fresh, under the direction of Danya Taymor, the actors are quite distinctive in their roles. As Ana, Beans gives a complex performance as a troubled young woman who has much to come to terms with, from religion, to family, to career, to intimacy. We watch her grow up before our eyes though she keeps much close to the vest, as the saying goes. As Jonah, her first love, Hagan Oliveras is sweet as the also conflicted young man who is confused about his burgeoning sexuality.

John Zdrojeski as Steven and Gabby Beans as Ana in a scene from Rachel Bonds’ “Jonah” at the Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

A complete contrast is Samuel H. Levine as the menacing Danny who appears to be a time bomb ready to go off at any minute. Each time we see him he has been injured in some altercation, each worse than the last. As the adult Steven, John Zdrojeski is amusing as the ever apologetic journalist who can’t keep his feeling for Ana to himself. His tentativeness suggests he is even more damaged than Ana has been.

While Rachel Bonds’ Jonah seems very thin aside from its tricky chronology and hidden secrets, it is an interesting portrait of disaffected youth told through the story of one young indomitable woman. However, it does not have much new to say. The young cast of rising stars is excellent and Danya Taymor’s staging is always believable.

Jonah (through March 10, 2024)

Roundabout Theatre Company

Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 W. 46th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.roundabouttheatre.org

Running time: 100 minutes without an intermission

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About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (990 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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