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Whorl Inside a Loop

From 22 critic and 43 member reviews
Members say: Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Ambitious, Resonant

About the show

In this Second Stage production, a well-regarded actress teaches six inmates how to tell their stories at a men’s maximum security prison. More…

Sharing intimate and sometimes hilarious details of their former lives, this unlikely group forms a bond - even as the actress’ life outside spins out of control. And when what happens in prison doesn't stay there, no one is sure who to trust. Six men play two dozen characters in a constant shifting of scenes, ages, genders and races.

Stage and Cinema

"Heartfelt and hopeful, tragic, hilarious, and timely, this show, boasting a vigorous script, tremendous performances, and simple but perfect theatricality, is a joy that should not be missed...Michael Mayer and Mr. Scanlan’s inspired, nurturing direction makes beats pop and performances sparkle...More than just an outstanding show, 'Whorl Inside a Loop' is a chance for six wonderful black performers to show what they can do, and it’s a chance for us to see them do it." Full Review

The New York Times

"A funny and moving new play...Their hard upbringings, the unhappy circumstances that led them into crime, the sometimes scandalously long sentences they received: These histories make for riveting, disturbing theater, and as recounted by the superb cast, they open windows into the lives of men whose stories mostly go untold, except in investigative journalism...Vivid writing and superlative performances effectively humanize each of the prisoners." Full Review


"'Whorl' is told through heaps of wit and thrillingly inventive staging. More important, it's a powerful reminder of the existence and basic humanity of our incarcerated fellow Americans whom many of us would rather forget...Everything here is tight, specific, and believable...'Whorl Inside a Loop' will be very hard for many of us to forget." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"'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...'Whorl Inside a Loop' convincingly demonstrates that theater can itself be a form of rehabilitation." Full Review

Village Voice

"It's refreshing when a writer toys with multiple truths, using theater to reveal the ways real-world stories are constructed — as in the smart, complex 'Whorl Inside a Loop...' Scott and Scanlan honor the stories they encountered in prison, while showing us the shortcomings of our own readiness to believe." Full Review


"'Whorl Inside a Loop' is both dramatically rewarding and very topical. With prison reform in the spotlight these days, the play offers much needed insight. However, more than anything else it is also highly entertaining...Amid its many virtues, 'Whorl Inside a Loop' still needs some work, particularly in the final scenes which are unnecessarily ambiguous. That aside, the play is, pardon the pun, truly captivating." Full Review

Reviewing The Drama

"'Theatricalizing the personal narrative' is written on the chalkboard. It's something Sherie Rene Scott and Dick Scanlan have done successfully...Arts programs are usually at the bottom of the budget priority list for most institutions, prisons included. With 'Whorl Inside a Loop,' Scott and Scanlan make the case for their efficacy as a rehabilitation tool...Co-directors Scanlan and Michael Mayer bring out the best in their talented actors." Full Review

New York Post

"As fine and funny as 'Whorl Inside a Loop' often is, the best thing about it is its cast — there hasn’t been such a dynamite ensemble of African-American actors since 'The Wire...' Using only minimal props, the actors switch seamlessly from one role to another as co-directors Scanlan and Michael Mayer keep this intermissionless show moving...In the dark, nobody will see you cry." Full Review


"The Volunteer has a secret of her own, one that makes us wonder whether she really is Sherie Rene Scott and, more important, whether we like her, whoever she is, as much as we thought we did. But that’s one more reason to have been entranced by this twisty work, performed with surprisingly deep eloquent power." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Sherie Rene Scott and collaborator Dick Scanlan use their experiences volunteering at an upstate prison for the penetrating 'Whorl Inside a Loop,' about a white actor helping six incarcerated black men tell their stories...It’s the inmates’ stories that have the most resonance...As race and law enforcement continue to make headlines, 'Whorl' is a timely reminder of the precarious nature of justice." Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

"Humanity oozes forth from 'Whorl Inside a Loop...' The evening benefits from dynamic performances and from smooth staging by Scanlan and Michael Mayer...The actors playing the prisoners also perform characters from the Volunteer’s privileged Manhattan life, and while initially there is delight from these rich-people impersonations, their over-broadness threatens to distract us from the play’s heartbreaking realism." Full Review


"The prison scenes are perfectly tense and raw, but when the action leaves the facility, the volunteer's world is played with broad, sometimes cartoonish strokes, decreasing their impact...Despite the snags, when 'Whorl Inside a Loop' is working, the play delivers some powerful theatre. Fortunately, it works quite a lot." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"Intriguing but rough-edged new play...With so much to ponder and so little point, we need a cleaner, sharper journey to where we're going. The prisoners have essentially an infinity to ponder the nuances and intricacies of what they're doing. We have much less time to waste, even in pursuit of 'Whorl Inside a Loop's' noble, fascinating idea." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"If you're looking for a sheer explosion of talent, you can't do much better than 'Whorl Inside a Loop,' in which half a dozen black actors bring to life a roomful of convicts with lively, funny, harrowing, and thoroughly riveting stories to tell...Well-intentioned, filled with talent, 'Whorl Inside a Loop' is something of a mess. In any number of passages it captivates, but when the focus shifts away from the men in prison, you may have to simply grin and bear it." Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

"The actors, playing both men and women, and creating the sound effects themselves, display their versatility through distinctive alterations in body language and speech; despite the laughs they draw, however, these bits—especially the racial and gender-crossing ones—tend to be distractingly exaggerated...It’s a stretch to accept the premise...An interesting, if flawed, play." Full Review

New York Theater

"There is much that is admirable and even heart-warming about the play. Yet, the creative team more or less manages to turn the inmates into supporting players in what should be their story...What’s good about 'Whorl Inside a Loop,' especially the acting, would make its self-indulgent aspects matter less, if the show weren’t entering a theatrical landscape already dotted with well-done prison dramas, most notable among them plays created and performed by ex-inmates." Full Review

AM New York

"'Whorl Inside a Loop' had the potential to be an important play. But in its current state at Off-Broadway's Second Stage, it is a mess -- though a very interesting mess, full of some striking moments, a smart overall concept and bitter commentary on race and gender...It needs -- and merits -- further development." Full Review

New York Daily News

"It’s captivating and packs a punch. And it’s cartoonish and loses its grip...These scenes outside the prison are played in such broad strokes that the mood is shattered. 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." Full Review

Bob's Theater Blog

"One wishes that the authors had stuck to the prisoners’ narratives, which are quite powerful and well-performed. The other parts of the play are muddled and dilute the impact. A twist at the end that raises the question of who is actually telling whose story didn’t quite work for me." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"The play has moments that are moving, humorous, and gripping. But these qualities exist on separate planes. They’re never synthesized, and they’re supplemented by passages that annoy rather than enlighten or entertain...The title 'Whorl inside a Loop' refers to an alleged characteristic of The Volunteer’s fingerprints, indicating she’s loyal, loving, manipulative, amoral, narcissistic, trustworthy, capable of acts of extreme kindness, and sociopathic with criminal tendencies. Like the play, ... Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"The real-life prisoners involved deserve better treatment than this self-indulgent, self-consciously artificial exercise...Unfortunately, and more than a little ironically, the prisoners get short shrift in this piece, which muddles its serious themes in self-conscious, artificial theatricality...With both the writing and acting often lurching into caricature, the play unfortunately trivializes its important subject too often seems to be spinning its own wheels." Full Review

The Wrap

"On display here are the kind of gross caricatures that cause part of the audience to guffaw and break into applause, while others simply recoil in silence at the spectacle in front of them. Maybe that’s the desired effect. It’s crass, however, to beg for compassion for some characters and turn others into objects of such ridicule. The actors are at their best when they perform the prisoners’ monologues, which are written with sensitivity by men who are or have been incarcerated. Kudos to tho... Full Review

Ambitious, Resonant, Intense, Entertaining, Relevant

See it if you like stories of hope.

Don't see it if you like nice tidy endings.

Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Resonant, Original

See it if You want to be moved. This play was an incredible piece of thought-provoking theatre that tackled a topic that is not easy.

Don't see it if N/a

Thought-provoking, Great writing, Great acting, Must see, Masterful

See it if If you want a genius play with incredible performances.

Don't see it if If you don't like plays.

Absorbing, Exquisite, Great acting, Resonant, Relevant

See it if you like theatre that takes difficult contemporary issues and presents them to audiences in a relatable and entertaining manner

Don't see it if you prefer fluffy, non-issue related theatre

Absorbing, Great acting, Original, Profound, Thought-provoking

See it if you want to be moved and have your eyes opened.

Don't see it if you aren't a fan of plays.

Absorbing, Intense, Must see, Relevant, Strong performances

See it if You are up for exploring crime, punishment and redemption Race & privilege in the US Criminal Justice system

Don't see it if You are a lock them up and throw away the key kind of person

Also Excellent ensemble cast... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Great staging, Riveting

See it if you want to witness a universally stellar ensemble of actors handle & dismantle stereotypes re: black men & incarceration

Don't see it if see it

Resonant, Riveting, Thought-provoking, Entertaining, Great acting

See it if you want to see great acting on an intense subject. It is excellent.

Don't see it if you are suspicious that every inmate is poetic. But remember, it is theatre and it's the "best of".

Original, Great writing, Great acting, Absorbing, Ambitious

See it if you love heart-wrenching stories and ambitious, diverse and original productions.

Don't see it if you prefer more elaborate stories, styles, and productions.

Absorbing, Clever, Thought-provoking, Profound, Refreshing

See it if You want a thought-provoking play that is brilliantly acted and smart.

Don't see it if You don't like small ensembles, playing multiple parts.

Absorbing, Entertaining, Great acting, Great writing, Funny

See it if You love great performances and like the show Orange is the new Black

Don't see it if You don't like stories about Prison

Absorbing, Ambitious, Funny, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if ready to see 6 actors play over 20 roles

Don't see it if cynical

Great writing, Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Resonant

See it if you want to see a play that explores artistic inspiration and exploitation between different classes of society. Fantastic final scene!

Don't see it if you have difficulty following actors portraying multiple roles within a piece.

Absorbing, Clever, Entertaining, Funny, Hilarious

See it if you enjoy a little meta with your comedy

Don't see it if you can't enjoy a good funny show

Entertaining, Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if Intense superbly written and acted. Riveting story.

Don't see it if you don't like minimalist sets.

Ambitious, Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Original

See it if you want a play exploring not only the prison system in America, but the audience's own culpability in commoditizing the prisoners' stories.

Don't see it if you dont' want to look at the way rich NYC audiences use portrayals of struggling people to make themselves feel empathetic and enlightened.

Ambitious, Great acting, Relevant, Resonant, Compelling

See it if Great performances from the entire cast. While not fully developed, all the characters feel like real people. Eloquent vignettes.

Don't see it if SRC's character might be annoying for some though she's necessary. For some people this play won't go far enough & may be frustrating.

Absorbing, Great acting, Edgy, Ambitious

See it if You're interested in the lives of prisoners. Terrific performances.

Don't see it if You prefer a more traditional sort of theatre.

Absorbing, Great acting, Profound

See it if you are interested in the stories and humanity of prisoners

Don't see it if you are looking for a lighthearted comedy. There are some comedic moments in this, but I wouldn't describe it as light.

Absorbing, Cliched, Funny, Great acting, Thought-provoking

See it if a wonderful cast turns SRS's cliched sounding story into something deeper, funnier and resonant than the description indicates.

Don't see it if if you do not like SRS. You are tired of the white-person-saves-black-folks trope even if it uses that notion in a meta context.

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Thought-provoking

See it if you like real life drama & stories with a twist

Don't see it if you are expecting a happy go lucky type story with a happy go lucky ending.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Moving

See it if you're into theatre that plays with form and storytelling. This is a fantastic piece with a unique perspective. I was incredibly moved.

Don't see it if you NEED a Sherie Rene Scott show to be a musical. This is definitely not Everyday Rapture.

Great acting, Clever, Absorbing, Unremarkable, Superficial

See it if versatile performances, fluid staging, provocative ideas, and final plot twists make you loopy with satisfaction.

Don't see it if you find it a stretch that all convicted murderers in a writing group are talented and trustworthy. A twist explains it but still...

Great acting, Profound, Resonant, Thought-provoking

See it if you're into "urban" stories.

Don't see it if you don't like straight plays or are in the mood for something very light.

Great acting, Resonant, Ambitious, Entertaining, Intelligent

See it if I don't like to predict how others will feel. I will just say that if you did not like Everyday Rapture (I didn't), you may like this.

Don't see it if If you only want to see Sheri Rene Scott in a musical, you may be disappointed. This is not a musical. ;)

Cast & Creatives (12)