Nov. 13, 2004 performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall
(Originally published on NewBerkshire.com)
For the past five decades the Berkshires have gleefully claimed writer William Gibson as their own, and turned out in force (and delighted pride) on November 13th, his 90th birthday, to show him how much they loved him — as a man, as well as a playwright, poet and novelist.
The Berkshire Theatre Festival’s Unicorn Theatre was the site and the birthday celebration, at which the cake was an enormous three-foot-long whale, was preceded by a dynamically staged reading of Gibson’s play “Jonah’s Dream,” written a few years ago while he was also writing “Golda.”
“Jonah’s Dream” is surreal. A goat talks and the audience is swept with Jonah into the body of a whale. A narrator and a chorus, the latter reciting short rhymed poems (that range from hilarious at times to, near the end, poignant awareness of the human condition) and that are in themselves evocative of Irish poetry at its best (yes, Irish, in the middle of this play about Nineveh and the wiping out of ten of the tribes of Israel), support actors Michael Hammond as Jonah and Kristin Wold as The Seraph-turned-goat, once in Jonah’s anger, sacrificed, and in the end in Jonah’s humanity and love, saved.
At the play’s opening Jonah, a lonely survivor, is living in the desert with a goat. When the goat speaks and orders him to go to Nineveh and preach God’s word, he cannot do this for a God who let Nineveh wipe out his world. He kills the goat, flees, and his dream takes him to Nineveh where he is confronted by the ambiguity of the reality of life or the abstract nature of God. This time, he cannot and does not kill the goat. Love is what enables humans to live and God may, or may not, be telling us that.
Despite the serious theme, mainly the play is hilariously funny, fantastic, surreal and quite wonderful. The actors are splendid and the direction is insightful. And despite the comedy, the play deals, in its final few minutes, with a poignant religious theme, as a program note states: “The attempt to forgive is the pathway to remaining human and, again paradoxically, to learning compassion. One cannot forgive without love.”
The audience loved the play and loved it even more because William Gibson was sitting there among them, with mainly on one side and his two fine sons on the other.
A vigorous ninety! Happy birthday, Bill!!!!!!