One of the things I love about theater is how it often shows us a new and more interesting way to see something. Take the biblical story of Jonah, for example, who is swallowed by a great fish. Like many stories we have heard repeatedly we begin to wonder why we would listen one more time to this . . . when all of a sudden something seems different. And, as it turns out, it’s not the story, it’s us; we have changed!
Change, or recognizing the need and/or ability to change, is the theme of Ebonee Johnson’s play, Hello! My Name Is Jonah. Ms. Johnson, who says she “didn’t pick Jonah, Jonah picked” her, does tell us the story of the well known Jonah, but the main attraction here is the stories of five unique Jonahs, each played by a different actor with their own individual tale.
These stories, told by Ebonee Johnson, Johnathan Douglass, Marva Gibbs, Mulvenia Hemmings, and Belman Woodson are as diverse as five people can be. They come out in segments, so understanding the full weight of each one takes the needed time. The common thread that weaves throughout the tales is an “ahah!” moment that reveals for them who they really are, or want to be. The acting of these pieces is clear and well defined, and the actors each have a unique openness that is a joy to watch.
I’l share two of my favorite performances. Ebonee Johnson, as Jonah #1, is reluctant to dress for her own graduation, while her mother buzzes around urging her to hurry. She sits immobile wondering how to tell her mother that she is not going to graduate today because she did not finish her last semester of school. She has discovered that it was never her dream to be a lawyer, it was her mother’s, and she has decided to live her own dream; to attend art school and become an artist.
Marva Gibbs, as Jonah #3, is a young woman whose parents have argued for years over the same issue and can never get past it. When she recognizes that they have paralyzed not only their own lives by this argument, but hers, she takes a stand to break out of this destructive pattern of behavior, take charge of her own life, and move forward, no longer being a party to their struggle.
The show is beautifully narrated by Ebony Jones, and there are five marvelous dancers, accompanied by Roy Horton, playing the drum. This is entertainment with a message of hope – the inspiring idea that everyone has a opportunity to change if they will only recognize and seize it.
Hello! My Name Is Jonah
By Ebonee J. Johnson
Directed by Ebonee J. Johnson
Produced by Living Stones, Inc.
Reviewed by Marcia Kirtland