Off-Broadway Theater Review: WHORL INSIDE A LOOP (Second Stage Theatre)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on August 27, 2015

in Theater-New York


I’m not partial to dramas set in prisons; these tend to be ugly, depressing, violent and hopeless, or worse—sentimental, and I find myself reluctant to be transported to such worlds. Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott’s Whorl Inside a Loop, set in a maximum security correctional facility, is not one of these. Heartfelt and hopeful, tragic, hilarious, and timely, this show, boasting a vigorous script, tremendous performances, and simple but perfect theatricality, is a joy that should not be missed.

Donald Webber, Jr.; Chris Myers; Derrick Baskin; Dan

The Volunteer (Ms. Scott), a beautiful, blond-haired, blue-eyed Broadway star, arrives at a prison to discover that her job will be to teach a weekly class on theatricalizing the personal narrative to six black men—convicted murderers all. To make the classroom a safe place for such emotionally revealing work, she and her students agree that “what happens in this room in prison stays in this room in prison.” But once home, the Volunteer not only shares the prisoners’ stories with friends and family, she decides to turn them into a Broadway show…without informing her homicidal pupils.

Ryan Quinn; Nicholas Christopher; Donald Webber

Michael Mayer and Mr. Scanlan’s inspired, nurturing direction makes beats pop and performances sparkle. The excellent Ms. Scott succeeds in keeping her egotistical Volunteer lovable even as she manipulates her way to achieving her selfish goals. But it’s the six male leads that infuse Whorl with magic. On Christine Jones and Brett Banakis’s rough, unadorned set, which looks like a giant block of wood, and using a few simple props—folding chairs, a trash can, a green board, prison clothes—the men each play a variety of characters, their transformations breathtaking in their simplicity and totality.

Ryan Quinn; Nicholas Christopher; Derrick Baskin; D…n Marcus

Legs pressed together, hands clasped on his chest, a slight stoop, a change of expression, and Donald Webber Jr. morphs from convicted cop killer Bey into the prison’s ambitious but kind-hearted female warden. Glasses, a preppy posture, an undershirt draped over shoulders, and Derrick Baskin goes from vicious murderer Sunnyside to an uptight white lawyer. The outstanding Chris Myers flawlessly transitions between black convict, white middle-aged sports fan, the Volunteer’s four-year-old son, and Hillary Clinton.

Derrick Baskin; Ryan Quinn; Donald Webber, Jr.; Dan

And wrapping an undershirt around his head, Nicholas Christopher jumps from killer to bombastic white female Broadway producer without missing a beat. So rich are these performers’ characterizations that we can guess what TV shows Mr. Webber’s warden likes to watch; what kind of pornography Ryan Quinn’s Officer Shaughnessy prefers; what kind of art Daniel J. Watts’ self-styled “hair therapist” Sean has on his walls.

Daniel J. Watts, Derrick Baskin, and Ryan Quinn

As much as I dislike mixing art and politics, I must say there is something satisfying and hopeful about seeing extraordinary black male actors playing against type, demonstrating the breadth of their range. In the current marketplace such opportunities are rare, and there is an argument to be made for taking advantage of this one. More than just an outstanding show, Whorl Inside a Loop is a chance for six wonderful black performers to show what they can do, and it’s a chance for us to see them do it.

Daniel J. Watts and Chris Myers

Ryan Quinn, Sherie Rene Scott, and Nicholas Christphotos by Joan Marcus

Whorl Inside a Loop
Second Stage Theatre
Tony Kiser Theatre, 305 West 43rd St.
ends on September 20, 2015
EXTENDED to September 27, 2015
for tickets, call (212) 246-4422 or visit

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