Sherie Renee Scott and Dick Scanlan’s Whorl Inside a Loop, a semi-autobiographic exploration of life in Woodbourne Correctional Facility about two hours north of New York City, is an explosive evening of theater that challenges our perceptions of guilt and innocence, as well as theater’s impact beyond the confines of the stage and audience.
Scott told the New York Times that she wanted to explore “how many types of prisons there are — prisons of your sex, your race, prisons of your work environment, of marriage, prisons that you don’t even know.”
In that regard, the play—a mosaic of scenes within the confines of the prison as well as snapshots of Scott’s fictional life among family and friends—hits most of its marks. The ensemble of six portrays a band of six convicted murderers along with the aforementioned characters outside of the prison walls. Generally speaking, they’re more successful as their core characters than the thin stereotypes they layer on with the help of some minor costume changes. But the play’s final moments reveal that those broad strokes and interpretations might just be intentional.
Scott, who’s known to most audiences for her musical theater work (Everyday Rapture, The Last Five Years, Aida, The Who’s Tommy), is the glue that holds Whorl Inside a Loop together. Her self-deprecating take on an actor’s life is spot-on, as is her infectious enthusiasm when she’s immersed in her craft with the prisoners.
Whorl Inside a Loop also shines a light on the injustices and imbalances in our legal system without glorifying either side of the argument. Enough is left unsaid that the audience must reach its own conclusions as to their guilt or innocence.
Here’s what the critics are saying:
“The drama here is not primarily in the interactions between the Volunteer and her students or her coterie of friends — which are often funny but hardly momentous — but in the dark trajectories of the men’s lives that are revealed as she leads them to turn their experiences into shapely monologues… But it’s hard to listen to their stories without sorrow over how their early experiences — of poverty, abandonment, drugs, neglect — may have (must have) shaped their trajectories. And to sympathize when the Volunteer simply but eloquently describes their narratives as ‘stories about guys who’ve lost their lives, but are still living.’” The New York Times
“Whorl Inside a Loop has a searching, puzzling quality that is very rare in contemporary plays, whose themes are typically sharpened to fine pencil-points. This one spreads out as it goes, asking larger and larger questions… When one of the men, troubled by the idea of turning his crime into theater, says that ‘writing about it is taking responsibility for it, but reenacting it feels like glorifying it,’ you may at first nod in agreement. But Whorl Inside a Loop, after investigating that paradox with all the honesty, humor, and stage savvy it can muster, convincingly demonstrates that theater can itself be a form of rehabilitation.” Vulture
“In the end, the play underlines that a personal narrative is just that — personal. That matters when it comes to who gets to tell it, and how. The point is valid — and criminally obvious.” Daily News
Whorl Inside a Loop
Second Stage Theatre
305 West 43rd Street
Through September 27