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  • Theater, Drama
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Gabby Beans (Ana) and Hagan Oliveras (Jonah) in Roundabout Theatre Company’s world-premiere production of Jonah by Rachel Bonds, directed by Danya Taymor.
Photograph: Courtesy Joan MarcusJonah

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Adam Feldman 

The characters in Jonah are constantly checking in with each other, whether out of concern or to grant or request consent. “Okay? Are you okay?” says the fumbling, sweetly horny teenager Jonah (Hagan Oliveras) as he shares a kiss with his boarding-school classmate Ana (Gabby Beans). “I’m okay,” she affirms. “Okay,” he replies. Such exchanges recur with pointed regularity throughout the script: The word okay (sometimes shortened to ’kay) is spoken 158 times in Rachel Bonds’s 100-minute play. 

But Ana is not okay. Yes, she seems fine—unusually self-possessed, even—in the play’s first scenes, which are devoted to her funny and adorable courtship with Jonah: a hopelessly self-conscious manic pixie dreamboy with curly hair and a smooth, leanly muscled body. She’s the one who takes the sexual initiative in their flirtation, flashing her bra at the end of their first encounter. (“I don’t have to do anything. I do what I want,” she later explains.) When she shares her romantic fantasies with him, she spins them with an animation that prefigures her future as a writer. 

Jonah | Photograph: Joan Marcus

At around the half-hour mark, though, their connection goes haywire. The action shifts from school to Ana’s home, where she lives under the tyranny of an alcoholic stepfather. This Ana is more passive; she serves as a support system for her abused stepbrother Danny—played touchingly and scarily by Samuel H. Levine, of The Inheritance—with whom she shares a fraught relationship. (His wounded rage and her guarded shame make this section an interesting companion to John Patrick Shanley’s recently revived Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.) By the time she meets the gawky and inquisitive Steven (Heroes of the Fourth Turning’s John Zdrojeski) at a writer’s retreat years later, her defenses are fully up. When he asks if she’s okay, she bristles: “You have to stop asking me that—I’m not some weakass flower.”

All of this is less straightforward than it may seem. Bonds interweaves Ana’s three narratives skillfully, letting the audience piece together what’s happening (and what has happened) as Jonah jumps from one to another, exploring themes of desire, vulnerability and trauma. That’s a big part of what keeps us engaged, so it’s a slight disappointment when the play’s denouement tips into overexplanation. But director Danya Taymor, in her visually spare world-premiere production at the Roundabout, elicits compelling performances from all four actors. The men are believably devoted in very different registers, and Beans—who earned a Tony nomination for her biting Sabina in The Skin of Our Teeth—delivers another charismatic and varied star turn. Even when the play is just okay, she shines. 

Jonah. Laura Pels Theatre (Off Broadway). By Rachel Bonds. Directed by Danya Taymor. With Gabby Beans, Samuel H. Levine, Hagan Oliveras, John Zdrojeski. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission. 

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Jonah | Photograph: Joan Marcus

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman


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