Ask Someone Else, God
nytheatre.com review by Case Aiken
September 16, 2009
Biblical stories traditionally offer simplified tales with an intent of conveying messages to their audiences. Even the ones claiming to be historical occurrences are usually laden with some kind of moral. Ask Someone Else, God, written by Kenneth Nowell and produced by The Looking Glass Theatre, attempts to convey the simple message once told in the story of Jonah and the Whale, through a variety of methods, ranging from deep dialogues and profound revelations to even at one point coming right out and telling the audience.
The show presents Jonah as a businessman who has forgone his business for unknown reasons, trying his hand at farming and doing his best to ignore the commandments of God, or perhaps the urge of destiny, as well as his past. When a woman (Janelle Mims) appears before him, claiming to be the Lord (or maybe the Earth-Mother...I'm not sure how New Age this element of the play was attempting to be), he tries to ignore her urging and flee, but, true to the story it is based on, he finds himself forcibly compelled to follow her wishes, for better or for worse. In that regard, the story follows the traditional tale closely, but the vast assortment of characters that Jonah encounters throughout his travels, played by the rest of the company, and the troubles they face provide new elements for the audience to take in.
Will Ellis as Jonah provides a solid base for the audience to latch onto (even when he is acting as an observer himself), however the thing that impressed me the most was the dynamic use of sound through the play, punctuating even the smallest conversation and keeping me on attention. While the use of recorded sound effects is rare, actors whistle, scratch at the walls, and play instruments, giving each scene a flavor all to itself. Along with that compelling sound element, the actors all appear with vibrant color in clever set pieces that are minimally conveyed through props and actions. Clearly, a great deal of work was put into constructing the overall show, making it possible to step back and listen and watch with enjoyment, even at the most avant-garde moments. Credit must be given to scenic design by Julia Noulin-Merat along with Jennifer Woo, light design by David Monroy, and costume design by Jessica Lustig, with smooth direction by Shari Johnson tying the disparate elements together.
There are certainly strong visual, audio, and performance elements that make this work one worth seeing. Certain developments may either reward or surprise the audience, but I think the overall package is enjoyable and certainly overcomes any obvious faults. The Looking Glass has presented something that works, however bizarrely at times.