Staged Reading: ‘In The Belly Of The Whale’

This is the second, Taffety Punk sponsored, Capitol Hill Arts Workshop located, staged reading of a new play that I’ve seen. Like the first, it riffs on an existing (and canonical) work. In the first case, it was Shakespeare’s infrequently produced Coriolanus and in this case, it is the story of Jonah, from Genesis.

There’s no good way to say this, but I was disappointed. It’s a work in progress, but the flaws are so striking and, dare I say, intrinsic, that it’s hard to see it being a success.

It is a six person play: Jona (a woman, unlike her Old Testament namesake, and the protagonist), Astrid Overlander (a sculptor), Domino (a sort of frightened old man caricature who steals/collects junk that…), Jed (sells on the street; he’s also a caricature, but a more amusing one; a comic, street level entrepreneur who is alwasy optimistic about future business prospects), a parrot named Calliope, and the stage manager.

I assume the stage manager is a ‘character,’ because without her narration, the quantity of dialogue drops sharply and the quantity, elaborateness, and expense of the sets would become impractical for almost any theater (and it would turn the play into something more like a special effects extravaganza). But that ‘character’ also becomes a crutch and violation of the old writing adage, ‘show, don’t tell.’ She tells us what’s happening all through the play (and had, by far the most lines; more than the other combined, I wager).

The ideas picked up and dropped resemble a grab bag of late night, undergrad conversations. Jona writes to (explicitly stating so) fend off the coming (literal) end of the world. Astrid makes sculptures that are simultaneously cradles, cages, and arks. Domino collects the detritus of the world. They are Brooklyn bohemians and stereotypes, rescued, after a fashion, from a biblical flood by the surprisingly buoyancy of Astrid’s latest masterpiece. There’s a whale swallowing, there’s guilt overcoming (even though the origin of her guilt seems rather low stakes, especially for one apparently triggering both an apocalypse and a whale swallowing), there’s an ark, there’s that cradle metaphor, and that cage metaphor, and hypergraphia, and messages in a bottle, and on and on and the themes tangle and mix and never resolve and never cohere and I still don’t know what it was trying to say.

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