This Jonah and the Whale is a loose and modernized interpretation of the story of Jonah, set somewhere along the Mississippi River sometime in the last century. Jonah is a well-liked happy man, expecting a child with his beloved wife, and fixing anything that's broken in his small close-knit community, including the town clock. An unspeakable tragedy causes Jonah to run away from his life in search of something - peace, healing, answers, a reason to live. He joins the crew of a riverboat and seems to be making progress, until a storm tosses him overboard. The whale is never explicitly named, but Jonah ends up inside something, where he experiences the culmination of his personal crisis, a revelation, and decides to come home. A simple story really, but profound in its telling.
|Jonah with Susan always behind him
(David Darrow and Kendall Anne Thompson,
photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp)
In just over six months playwright Tyler Mills, along with composer/lyricists* Blake Thomas (a gifted singer/songwriter, check out his music on iTunes) and David Darrow (who gave us a glimpse of his songwriting skills at the Fringe a few years ago) have written what feels like a full and complete musical. The clever, funny, and poignant book has light-hearted homey moments, with plenty of small details added that add color to the characters, as well as intense and personal drama. The score is in the style of "old timey folk/Americana music" (which just happens to be my favorite genre) and includes a gospel chorus, a revival tent song, a bar song, plaintive ballads, and a recurring wordless tune that ties the whole thing together. I'm crossing my fingers that they record a soundtrack; this is music I could listen to endlessly. In addition to the music, there are constant wonderfully inventive sound effects that illuminate the world of Jonah, many created by Mary Fox on various percussive instruments and objects.**
This is definitely the most elaborate set that 7th House has had. The black box theater that is the Dowling Studio is arranged in the frequent proscenium style, with the back of the stage area filled with ladders, barrels, crates, and a moving doorway, creating that early 20th century Americana feel. The simple costumes are also of that Americana dust bowl sort of style, with homespun dresses for the women and worker's coveralls for Jonah (set by Kate Sutton-Johnson, costumes by Mandi Johnson).
Jonah and the Whale is less than 90 minutes long but it feels epic, full and complete and layered, like you've gone on the journey along with Jonah and returned home changed. It's one of those experiences where time stands still and what's happening on stage is the only reality. This is a truly unique and special creation, with so much work and heart put into it by the cast and creative team. It makes my heart glad for the future of theater. I could not be prouder of or happier for the kids at 7th House for their continued success and growth as a company. Go check them out in this show if you can (two shows have been added and limited seats remain), and keep your eye on them in the future.
|Jonah (David Darrow, photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp)
*Listen to Blake and David talk about writing the song "Wondering Wandering" on an episode of Twin Cities Song Story, hosted by Mark Sweeney.
**Mary and Blake have experience creating wonderful, whimsical, innovative sounds on Take it With You, their monthly radio show, recorded live in Duluth, which you can listen to here.
This article also appears on Broadway World Minneapolis.