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Glenda Frank


“Jonah” by Rachel Bonds, directed by Danya Taymor
The Laura Pels Theatre, Roundabout, 111 West 46 St., NYC.
January 11 – March 10, 2024.
Ti ckets 212.719.1300, roundabouttheatre.org,
Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30PM, Wednesday & Saturday matinees at 2:00PM, and Sunday matinees at 3:00PM. $75 – $138.

Gabby Beans (Ana). Photo by Joan Marcus.

“Jonah” by Rachel Bonds is about a woman who may be an author and a dysfunctional family. The realistic opening scenes show us a blooming romance at an exclusive boarding school between Ana, the protagonist, and Jonah, who is still mourning his mother’s death. Hagan Oliveras as Jonah is vulnerable and very endearing. Their discussions are tender and funny, but they also raise troublesome questions about Ana’s behavior, which the play does not immediately address. Later we find out why. Ana has a fondness for inventing stories, and the romance with Jonah may have been a fantasy.

Hagan Oliveras (Jonah). Photo by Joan Marcus.

Each scene bring us a different perspective on Ana as a writer, but during the 100 minutes of the play, it’s not clear which characters are inventions. Or if her creative powers have skewed, edited, or rewritten them entirely. The play is divided into three encounters. In the first encounter with Jonah, Ana seems to be a scholarship student in an expensive school although we later learn that she was homeless in her final year of a neighborhood high school. She finished her courses by camping out in a school office.

In the next episode, Jonah is replaced by Danny, Ana’s step-brother -- and lover. She is first at home, her mother dead, her alcoholic stepfather beating up Danny (Samuel Henry Levine), her protector. Then she is a creative writing student in college, visited by a self-effacing Danny. His suicide attempt seems a bit much. Danny reads like a plot device, and Samuel Henry Levine (“The Inheritance”), who plays him, doesn’t have enough backstory to bring him to life.

In the third segment, she has become a successful author at a writers’ retreat. John Zdrojeski (“Good Night, Oscar”) is Steven, a lapsed Morman and an ardent admirer of her work. He is gangly and sincere -- with great line readings. The subtext in John Zdrojeski’s “Okay” creates a laugh line.

What is missing is the Aha! Moment, when we understand what Bonds is dramatizing. Best about the production are the tweaks and guidance by director Danya Taymor (Pass Over). The blocking is so natural it seems unplanned. Pauses punctuate ideas. And who doesn’t root for an articulate, struggling young woman, whatever she is?

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