Off-Broadway Review: JONAH (Roundabout at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center)

Post image for Off-Broadway Review: JONAH (Roundabout at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center)

by Paola Bellu on February 9, 2024

in Theater-New York

A mysterious coming-of-age story that focuses on women’s sexuality, written and directed by two talented artists like Rachel Bonds and Danya Taymor, was unquestionably the reason I wanted to see Jonah, presented by Roundabout Theater. Sexuality is an important bio-psycho-social development that starts during adolescence and this story appropriately begins with young, bright Ana (Gabby Beans) attending boarding school.

Gabby Beans (Ana)

She meets adorable, charming Jonah (Hagan Oliveras) who seems to understand her perfectly. They are electric, and through their puppy love banter we discover who Ana is and what she likes, even her early sexual fantasies. All going well, the actors lure us into it; Beans is full of life, quick, charming, perfect for the role; Oliveras is the companion every person interested in men wants to meet at that age, a dream come true.

Gabby Beans and Hagan Oliveras

When they get too close, Jonah is sucked off the stage, lights flicker and flash, and we understand we are going to be somewhere else in another time. And indeed we are, although the set does not change; Ana’s bedroom looks the same every time we travel through the various stages of her life. In our second setting, Ana is in Detroit where she lives with her stepfather and his two sons. Her mother married him when Ana was only 11, before she realized he was an abusive drunk. To make things worse, she died from cancer three years later, leaving her with three men at a key moment in her growth.

Hagan Oliveras as Jonah

In Detroit, Beans plays a somber, almost fearful teenager hiding on her bed. With her, we don’t see disarming, goofy Jonah but her more realistic stepbrother Danny (Samuel H. Levin) who is constantly brutalized by their father. He is a bit older than Ana and takes advantage of his role to gain her compliance. Levin plays an excellent passive-aggressive victim-aggressor, we care yet fear him. Bravo! Ana loves him, wants to help him, and she is understandably confused by his approaches; Beans does a wonderful job as this version of her character.

Gabby Beans (Ana) and Samuel Henry Levine (Danny)

We see the wound and we want to know more. Another zap, time shifts, and we are at a writer retreat where an older, distrustful Ana, now an accomplished writer, meets the third man, dorky and gentle Steven (John Zdrojeski); like Jonah, another great example of a caring human being. To reveal more would be a spoiler, but I can say the plot elements are not difficult to grasp. And a couple of needed scenes may disturb.

John Zdrojeski (Steven) and Gabby Beans (Ana)

The drama is there, but Ana’s devastating wound, her vulnerability, her guilt, are not explored deeply enough to truly engage us. Bonds, the writer, gives us only bits and pieces of the emotional toll, and a list of facts that cause a fracture. The set (Wilson Chin), lighting (Amith Chandrashaker), and sound (Kate Marvin), which all follow Taymor’s minimalistic direction that uses mainly one part of the long stage, don’t seem to enhance the imaginative dialogue, instead creating an undertone background. Both Bonds and Taymor skillfully interweave the different stages of Ana’s life, the piece has great potential, and the performances are excellent. It is a mixed bag. Go see it and let me know what you think.

photos by Joan Marcus, 2023

Roundabout Theatre Company
Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center
Tues-Sat at 7:30; Wed and Sat at 2; Sun at 3
ends on March 10, 2024
for tickets, ($78-$138) call 212.719.1300 or visit Roundabout

Leave a Comment