Winnemucca (three days in the belly)
nytheatre.com review by Nathaniel Kressen
August 14, 2009
Winnemucca (three days in the belly) brings the Biblical story of Jonah to the present, imprisoning the prophet in a Nevada hotel instead of a whale's stomach. The show reaches this year's FringeNYC Festival via a company of recent college graduates.
This is a story of a man who feels such fear at being called upon to serve God that he runs from everyone he loves, is caught and imprisoned, until at last he embraces the role of God's prophet. This story has the innate elements to craft a passionate tale of rage and spiritual awakening—but there is little of that here. To put it simply, the production fails to make strong choices—from the script on through to the creative team.
Dan Moyer's script touches on several different genres but fails to embrace any of them. There is some mild humor but never a full laugh-out-loud moment. He alludes to Sartre's No Exit but prevents the tension from building by unnecessarily breaking the play into scenes (although there is no act break in a 120-minute show). Most disappointingly, he creates one-dimensional characters that rarely change behavior. Their only function, as far as the script is concerned, is to voice opinions regarding the prophet's reluctance to accept the role God has bestowed upon him.
Throughout the evening, the depiction of Jonah's journey feels jerky and uninspired. Director Wren Graves and actor Grayson DeJesus for some reason chose for the character to remain a man without passion, even when he at last finds the divine inspiration. He pounds at the door to escape but in a minute abandons the desire to leave altogether. He desperately tries to squeeze drops from a water bottle but then speaks, talks, and moves without any sign of an extreme thirst that has lasted for days. He is forever the spineless worm ignorant of where he belongs, and it proves extremely difficult to empathize with him. An assistant director may have done wonders here, especially with establishing some variety in the blocking, which is repetitive and without nuance.
Actor Will Brill is solid as the supporting character of Big Chet—Jonah's warden as well as an aspiring prophet envious of Jonah's position—and brings playfulness that is sorely lacking in the rest of the production. Jenni Putney seems misdirected as Suede Lucy—the cliche character of the stripper with a heart of gold. She presents an ever-cheerful facade however we never observe the darkness underneath it that precipitates Jonah's spiritual awakening.
The production's design aspects are minimal as may be expected from festival requirements, however the production suffers from not having a sound designer—ambient noises could have established a sense of environment and grounded the actors performances.