BWW Reviews: Faith-Based JONAH DOVE Premieres at Capital Fringe
To start, I have to hand it to Jason Ford for offering Capital Fringegoers something a little different to see in this year's festival. It's not often you see a faith-based, Biblically-inspired play among the listings. Unfortunately, however, a good idea can only take you so far. Jonah Dove is an example of that.
The modern day tale of 'good and evil' is of course loosely based on the Biblical Book of Jonah. Jonah (Dean Davis) has escaped from his not-so-great upbringing in Niven's Corners, presumably located somewhere outside of the DC Metro area since a trip to the Vienna Metro is referenced. He doesn't necessarily have much faith, if any, in God. In fact, he's a self-identified atheist. He remains somewhat concerned about the people he left behind, particularly his niece Angela (Justine Cerruto) who remains in the care of his messed up sister in a trailer park, Tammy (Tanya Davis), and her drunk boyfriend Denny (Tim Torre).
With some help from his friend Laurie (also Tanya Davis) - who has eschewed her wealthy upbringing to assume a career in some sort of social services - and her mother Sonya (Melissa B. Robinson), he gets the very intelligent Angela out of the trailer park and into a private school where she can both thrive and be safe. Yet, they meet several snafus along the way - some of which inexplicably happen on a yacht and involve the Coast Guard. You have to have water in a story about Jonah, right?
Ultimately, it portends to be a story about redemption and the discovery of faith. Instead, however, it is a muddled, contrived story with more than a few basic references to the 'have-nots' in the trailer park juxtaposed with Laurie/Sonya's family's wealth. Random and forced references to God are thrown in every chance the playwright can seem to find and although it's never clear why Jonah suddenly finds God as he's dealing with the Angela debacle and what's exactly the catalyst for his change of heart. Oh, the playwright also debates the secularization of education - the private school Angela wants to attend has a Christian faith-infused mission statement, but some evil administrators are seeking to change that although Sonya (who is seemingly on the board in one way or another) is opposed.
The actors - for the most part - do their best with the material they've been given, but there are few that don't necessarily give performances that make the show somewhat interesting to watch. Davis is the picture of versatility as she takes on the role of Jonah's sister and friend - both of which come from different worlds. She's also the most natural performer on stage and breathes actual life into the dull proceedings. Young Cerruto has teenage Angela does the same to some extent. She has the sullen teenager vibe downpat, but through it you can see her innocence and desperation to succeed in the face of numerous obstacles. Robinson has a lovely speaking voice and is appropriately stern as a well-to-do elegant woman, but ultimately does little to tell the audience who her character is. Torre gives a somewhat nuanced performance as the drunk boyfriend who has a history with Jonah.
The problem, however, is Davis as the lead. He often sounds as if he's reading off of a cue card and nearly every line is delivered at the same speed with the same intonation. Flubbed lines also proved to be a problem at the performance I witnessed as did the wooden acting. He is simply never even remotely believable as a man who overcame numerous obstacles as a young man and got himself in trouble on more than one occasion. He's even less believable as a man who is having a deep crisis of faith.
While director Ben Fisler makes the most of the tiny stage, some of his choices are likewise a bit confusing. It's unclear why the role of Laurie/Tammy is performed by one actress even if she's well-suited to doing so. If it's a practical choice, that's fine, but if it's an artistic choice, it doesn't make a lot of sense - especially considering Laurie's absence in scenes involving Tammy are explained in a contrived manner. Likewise, at times actors (particularly Torre) stay onstage when a scene doesn't involve their character and sit in chairs behind the main action. Other times they don't. The inconsistencies are puzzling and it's not clear if this is an artistic choice or not.
I commend Ford for taking the leap into writing plays with faith-based content, but he has much more work to do to get this particular play to be of interest to the most discriminating churches let alone theatres.
Running Time: 85 minutes.
Jonah Dove played its final performance in the festival on July 28, 2013.