The Disappearance of Jonah
nytheatre.com review by James Comtois
August 14, 2008
When a person goes missing without any clue as to where or how, it leaves the friends and family members in limbo, since that question of "What happened?" will most likely never be answered. Also, the idea that he could return any day, regardless of how improbable, can never be thoroughly ruled out.
The Disappearance of Jonah tackles this idea through an engrossing series of stories that tie in together as one giant story about how several people are directly and indirectly affected by one young man disappearing off the face of the earth.
Jonah, a young man from a small rural town, went off to college in New York and disappeared without a trace. Two years later, his younger brother Finn tells his mother (to her horror) that he's going to New York to find his older brother, find some clues as to what happened, or at least simply find some sense of closure.
In New York, Finn ends up meeting several people who had connections with his brother, including Natalie, Jonah's former fiancée; Ben, a newly famous author grappling with his newfound fame and harboring some much-deserved guilt; and Amy, a quirky actress/waitress at a coffee shop Jonah used to frequent. In addition to having some sort of connection to Jonah, they all have connections with each other (none of which I will reveal here, since part of what makes this play so enjoyable is watching how all these connections unfold).
Back home, Finn and Jonah's mother is still grief-stricken. She compulsively buys lottery tickets to buy a giant billboard ad to find her missing son. She throws birthday parties for Jonah, half-expecting that the act of baking a cake will have him come back home. She has one-night stands to stave off the pain and loneliness with Finn's burnt out, alcoholic English teacher, Edward (who, coincidentally, was Jonah's former mentor and Ben's former teacher).
Throughout the play, Jonah appears as a presence, sometimes seen, sometimes unseen, sometimes through flashbacks. Jonah also often addresses the audience to give his views on New York (but alas, no insight as to what happened to him).
What's really fascinating is seeing how writer Darragh Martin and directors Pitr Strait and Dan Blank intertwine all of these characters' lives and fates without making the play confusing or convoluted. To say that the play abounds in coincidences is putting it mildly.
Martin, Strait, and Blank seamlessly blend events from the past and present with scenes that have characters talking to Jonah before he went missing and his younger brother Finn in the present day. It may sound confusing, but to the contrary, gives the audience a very clear picture and timeline of events. It's quite impressive and compelling storytelling.
There are several neat ideas and impressive scenes in The Disappearance of Jonah. I liked the idea that because Jonah is no longer around, he will always be seen in the eyes of his friends and family as perfect, because he'll never grow old or fail in midlife: he'll be forever 20 years old with the world as his oyster. I also liked the scene where Amy espouses her idea of there being "several" New Yorks—that the New York Jonah lived in is not the New York that Finn is experiencing. I also found the mother's and teacher's parallel monologues about their feelings of loneliness, emptiness, and failure after their one-night stand very touching and honest (in particular because both of them pinned their hopes and dreams on Jonah in very different ways).
Everyone in the cast—Lori Kee, Jake Green, Jeff Brown, Asher Grodman, Birdy Sahagian, Paul Casali, and Lydia Brunner—is great, and they all have a lot to work with, since every character is well-rounded and fully realized. Additionally, Green and Brown, as Finn and Jonah respectively, look similar enough for one to believe that they're brothers.
Meticulously crafted and beautifully paced, The Disappearance of Jonah is a poignant portrait of characters overcoming grief, making connections, and trying to find closure, regardless of how difficult-to-impossible finding such closure is.