The short version: Go see it for the laughs and the deep thinking that is a surprise along the way. And for the hope that these three actresses star in lots of other work together.
From the wonderfully funny advertisement videos I had seen on Facebook, I expected a pure comedy from this production. Bakely’s “Jo,” blessedly, is something deeper and richer under the surface. This is not the retelling of the story of Jonah, either. It is something altogether beautiful and different in its creation.
Briana Marxum-McCollom, divine as Gloria, oscillated between a sovereign and divine being and innocent, thrilled with her new found corporal form and unsure of vocabulary. Rebecca Ralstin played Lu as both wicked and impatient with Jo, played by Nicole Hall, who would not bend to Gloria’s master plan. Gloria’s master plan was both backwards and inspired – it was, essentially, to use victim shaming of rape victims as a tactic to improve empathy towards rape victims. As Lu explains, they cannot stop rape, people will continue to do horrible things to one another, but if Jo protests rape victims and protests the trials of rape victims, it will highlight what they actually are – victims. This is a heavy topic, and Bakely never makes light of the topic of rape, and he does not use that as fodder for jokes, even though the play itself is very funny.
The themes within this play are rich and it caused me to think upon other topics. Could the protests by Westboro Baptist Church be instruments of God for us to be more sympathetic? What if we were tasked with doing something so heinous by God, but we were promised by the Lord it would bring fruit and good to others, but cause destruction to our own lives? It is a fascinating play, and gorgeously performed.
The only two hiccups were pacing around the Gin Rummy scene, and the length of the fantastic tornado scene in relation to the rest. I believe this uneven pacing could be due to the shortened format of fringe where some script cuts needed to be made.
This is a wonderful work, and I am hopeful to see it continue and reach a bigger audience. De De Deville did a bang up job with the direction and artistry, and the women brought a great energy to the stage. I could watch a two act version any day.
Pete asked in another forum how to answer the question in general where he (a playwright) gets their ideas. This was my (somewhat unhelpful) contribution:
I imagine you contemplated what would cause a kind and benevolent God to come up with the Westboro Baptist Church, and then your imagination ran wild from there. Or, you wondered what the story would be if God asked a chosen prophet to sacrifice a child for the greater good, but placed that story in modern sensibilities. Or, you had a really bad day with a set of four blown tires and five tornadoes and you had to work backwards to decide how that might happen to someone.
[Edit 7/28/18: Nicole Hall has corrected the typo that speculated her role was inspired by Nick Jonas. She corrected the author to reflect it was in fact Jonah, an altogether different male popular artist from years ago.]
[Edit 2 7/28/18: The author was corrected again – Jonah is not a male artist but a Bible character.]