Two years ago Jonah and Otto premiered in London, just over six years after debuting in Manchester. Last night Robert Holman’s riveting drama swam across the pond and opened at The Lion on Theatre Row. This show is a master class in acting, handled by two exquisite actors Sean Gormley and Rupert Simonian. Mr. Gormley plays Otto a clergyman in his 60’s, who is so afraid of connection, yet longs for it with every fiber in his being. He is flawed and gullible. By chance he meets Jonah (Simonian), a scruffy down on his luck, crude twenty-something-year-old, who uses magic to steal and anger to threaten. Jonah holds two secrets; one is he has a small child who he wheels in like a bag person, in a shopping cart and two, he is an epileptic. As the two men dance around their fears, wants, desires and loneliness they form a bond that is touching and elusive. This is a show about regrets and about living in the present. It is the human condition at it’s most frail.
You see every ounce of emotion on Mr. Gormley’s face, a regular at the Irish Rep. This performance is vulnerable and layered and rich with texture.
Mr. Simonian is like a young Robert Downey Jr. When he breaks into one of Jonah’s fits, he tugs at our maternal side to comfort and sooth. His love for his child is tender and his mischief has us wanting to meet and know this bad boy, because like Otto we know there is underlying pain there. I can’t not wait to follow this star’s rise, who like Mr. Gormley gives a layer-textured performance.
Geraldine Hughes direction, keeps us wanting to know more and doesn’t allow the show to drag.
Holman’s writing is interesting. Waiting for Godot and Tom Stoppard will come to mind. I love the nuances of his words and the underlining things that are left unsaid. His writing makes your brainwork and strips the audience’s emotions to its core. It is like being stuck with several small pins, asking for you to feel, to wake up, to connect. The swearing and the calling of names was a clever distraction to break up the jewels of what one should listen to, pay attention and heed.
Ann Beyersdorfer’s set deserves mention. This is the best set I have seen at The Lion and it truly put me in the time, place and where I was suppose to visit, in this fabulous journey of Jonah and Otto. This is a DO NOT MISS!, especially if you love acting. This is one of the best shows I’ve seen all season and definitely some of the best acting.
Jonah and Otto: The Lion, Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd St. until Feb 25th.