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A CurtainUp Review
Jonah and Otto
Snappy writing gives this sentimental story a real lift. So does the excellent acting of London-born Rupert Simonian and Irish Rep. member Sean Gormley, under the fine direction of Geraldine Hughes.
Entering a secluded section of a public garden on England's south coast, Jonah (Rupert Simonian), a twenty-six year old scruffy-looking hustler has been making ends meet doing magic and card tricks up and down the seaside towns. He startles Otto (Sean Gormely) the well-dressed sixty-two year old lapsed clergyman whom he finds sensually caressing the stone wall. Don't ask...you'll find out. Otto is just as startled to see that Jonah has with him a sleeping six year-old baby girl in a shopping cart filled their necessities.
Otto's instinct is to be wary of this strangely appealing but moderately hostile stranger who doesn't lose any time demonstrating his ability as a pickpocket. Jonah's behavior and tough talk soon enough reveal that he may be sharing the same desperation to find a reason to live that Otto feels.
So begins a spiky, often confrontational, duologue between the two. Their individual and personal stories become grafted into their common desire to explain and expose their loneliness to each other.
There is a lot of talk about love and all the things that should make life worth living and yet don't for some of us. But all the talking is lively and the revelations are fraught with the unexpected — not the least of which are Jonah's occasional seizures and one of Otto's sudden narcoleptic attacks making him oblivious to the fact that he's been completely undressed by Jonah while sitting upright on a bench. There is an element of allegory introduced as Jonah takes off his own shoddy clothes and sneakers and puts on Otto's suit and shoes.
Holman's characters may seem adrift in their mutual loneliness. But the reward of the play is that we watch them increasingly reflected through each other's sorrows and joys.
Gormley beautifully addresses Otto's mixture of melancholy and geniality ("So what if I am peculiar. I don't care a jot. The point of having no friends is that you also have no enemies"). Simonian is terrific as the mercurial, motor-mouthed and poignantly unsettled Jonah ("I'm ridiculously worried, old man. I'm stony broke, to be honest with you. My pockets are ridiculously empty").
For a while, it seems as if their dispiriting but never boring discourse about girlfriends, parents, school, sex, marriage and religion is more than we need to know, but it moves toward a gracefully affable resolve. Otto may talk to a crumbling wall (bravo to Ann Beyersdofer's evocative setting) and Jonah may hear birds in his head, but listening to their hearts is rewarding.
Despite Holman's more than fifty years as a highly regarded dramatist in the U.K., he has not had similar recognition in the United States. His precisely honed prose suggests shades of both Samuel Beckett and also early Edward Albee which adds to this play's pleasures.
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Jonah and Otto by Robert Holman
Directed by Geraldine Hughes
Cast: Sean Gormely (Otto), Rupert Simonian (Jonah)
Set: Ann Beyersdorfer
Sound: Ian Wehrle
Costume Design: Katie Sue Nicklos
Stage Manager: Kat West
Assistant Director: Taylor Thomson
associate Producer: Natlaia Duncan Macker
Production Manager: Charlie Whelton
Magic Consultant: Evan Gambardella
Set Production Management: alfa Productions
Produced by ; Steven Klein & Nick Micozzi
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes no intermission
Lost Tribe Theatre and Firefly Theater & Films at The Lion Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street.
Tuesdays through Fridays at 8pm, with matinees Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 3pm.
From 02/01/17 Opened 02/08/17 Ends 02/25/17
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 02/04/17
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