IIt’s called Forgiveness but it’s not the main theme of Jonny Donahoe’s solo show. He calls himself a storyteller, but this meditation on trauma, fear and love is barely coherent in a story. Forgiveness is too fractured and unresolved for that. You have to respect Donahoe’s refusal to grapple with this raw material, as he explains how new parenthood prompted him to consider the childhood trauma he had long shunned, in neat narrative form. There is a dramatic deficit: the show is not always compelling. But you never doubt his honesty or the hard-earned nature of the truths he uncovers.
Donahoe’s story begins during a trip to San Francisco with his girlfriend, comedian Josie Long. Long discovers that she is pregnant; Donahoe (a musical comedian himself with his band Jonny and the Baptists) has a panic attack, then locks himself in a dark room for a fortnight. Childhood, we learn, has negative connotations for Donahoe: his was marred by abuse. Memories – some vague, others perhaps even unreliable – now refuse to be suppressed. Donahoe needs to tell his story, he says, so he can move on and become a father.
But are stories the solution or part of the problem? Forgiveness, led by P Burton-Morgan, is exercised a lot by this question. A substantial part finds Donahoe ruminating on what he’s telling us and why. The show unfolds on two tracks – fragments of childhood memory spliced into the linear narrative of Long’s pregnancy and birth – but the impact of the first on the second is not always clear. His story of future fatherhood, with his trips to Ikea and deep dives into parenting literature, is unremarkable.
Donahoe is still processing what he endured as a child. With many sullen pauses, he fully conveys his conflicted feelings and this stuff still feels raw. But there’s also levity in the conversational moments where he engages the crowd and in his respect for his partner and their newcomer. It’s not a perfectly constructed show, but in its intimacy and cautious hope it is undeniably touching.