The scenario dramatized in Sherie Rene Scott and Dick Scanlan’s new play “Whorl Inside a Loop” — where a Broadway actress (played by Scott) is conscripted into teaching a drama class at a maximum security men’s prison — is not all that unbelievable.
As documented in the film “Shakespeare Behind Bars,” theater-based activities have been successfully used to promote the personal development of incarcerated individuals.
With that in mind, “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.
Scott (“The Last Five Years”) scored a hit at Second Stage in 2009 with “Everyday Rapture,” a tuneful, satirical spin on the celebrity tell-all, which went on to Broadway.
In “Whorl Inside a Loop,” Scott’s unnamed character narrates her experience working with six African-American prisoners. Strangely, the prisoners also play her friends and family with little change in costume.
Although Scott encourages the men to open up about their violent pasts, it becomes clear that it is the prisoners who are in control of this production and dramatizing their experience with the actress — who goes on to steal their stories as material for her own play.
Scott is terrific as the unsure, awkward and self-absorbed protagonist, and is joined by a fine supporting cast including Derrick Baskin as a sensitive prisoner.
Running 100 minutes without an intermission, the play resembles the theatrical exercises that it spotlights, built upon an improvisational air. Some of the material sticks, but much of it doesn’t. The prisoners’ sober and dense monologues clash with the comic business. It needs — and merits — further development.
If you go: “Whorl Inside a Loop” plays at Second Stage through Sept. 20. 305 W. 43rd St., 2st.com.