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Photo: Joan Marcus Review
Coming of age tales are among the theatrical landscape’s most frequently told stories, even as each one takes a different tack on this familiar subject. That’s undeniably true of Rachel Bonds’ intriguing “Jonah,” now premiering at the Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre. The play spans a decade or so in the life of Ana – magnificently played by the rising superstar Gabby Beans, who never leaves the stage for a second of this 100-minute piece and never lets our attention drift from her.

But the play, exquisitely acted by a four-person cast and sharply directed by Dayna Taymor, is also likely to leave many audiences scratching their heads when its over, with a long list of questions to be asked – and possibly answered – while you tale the subway home to Brooklyn or the Metro North to Westchester.

Not the least of these – if perhaps the most perplexing – is why Bonds chose to call the play “Jonah,” when the character of that name, a gawky high school student endearingly played by Hagan Oliveras, is only on stage for less than a third of the play. True, Jonah is Ana’s “first love” – we meet the pair while they are in high school where Jonah eventually talks his way into Ana’s all-girls dorm and, eventually, her heart. (The play takes place in three separate bedrooms, all identical and rather oddly designed by Wilson Chin to resemble enormous, sparsely decorated hotel rooms).

However, he’s also, in many ways, a less important presence to her than the two other men with whom she spends time: her volatile stepbrother Danny (a vulnerable yet terrifying Samuel H. Levine, totally unrecognizable from his turn in “The Inheritance”) and the ultimately seductive ex-Mormon Steven (a truly winning John Zdrojeski, last seen in New York as George Gershwin in “Good Night Oscar”) she befriends at a writer’s retreat.

So, while I really can’t explain the title, you may not wish to read any further if you don’t want me to explain what I can about the play. What eventually emerges is that, even in telling us about her own life, Ana is a completely unreliable narrator, withholding facts, changing them at will, and re-crafting her past and present, something audiences will become increasingly aware of if they listen carefully to Bonds’ well-crafted dialogue.

For example, how can she have a stepbrother (two to be exact) that we didn’t hear about during her discussions with Jonah – and, if so, what happened to her two sisters? Further, if Danny is truly her stepbrother, why does Ana – seemingly strong-willed – allow him to deflower her? And when we learn what eventually became of Danny, it sounds believable, but we can’t be sure it is. Indeed, it’s not surprising that she grows up to become a well-renowned writer (or so we’re told by Steven).

Like so many of us, including the troubled Danny and the sweet-natured Steven (who may not be completely honest about what drove him away from the Mormon Church), we tell ourselves (and others) stories that have their own purpose, veracity be damned! Ana’s stories are what she needs not only to survive her many traumas but also to heal herself, so she can interact with the rest of the world in a “healthy” fashion. The enormity of her damage only comes to light late in the play, allowing us to forgive Ana for her secrets and lies.

Because of its small cast size and unit set, “Jonah” is the kind of play likely to have a long life in regional theater. However, to say Beans will be a hard act to follow is a major understatement. Whether Ana is happy, sad, confused, withdrawn, angry, or compassionate, Beans registers each emotion with complete authenticity (even if Ana’s truthfulness is in question) and makes Ana one of the most interesting protagonists currently on the New York stage. She deserves this play, even with its flaws, to be named after her!

By Brian Scott Lipton

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Open/Close Dates
Opening 2/1/2024
Closing 3/10/2024

Theatre Info
Laura Pels Theatre
111 West 46th Street
New York, NY 10036