There was deep consideration on my part to audition for this show. Mostly because, as an actor, I always wanted to do a deep drama. I wanted to yell at someone, bring emotional pain to the masses, or at the very least give them a good jolt to the senses. However, I accepted role of spectator to attend a dress rehearsal of the controversial play directed by Jason Maly. Honestly, I made a wise choice…but not for the reason you think.
First thing is first; this was truly an exciting cast. These weren’t simply the same faces that you see every production. It was a collection that begins with a veteran director, who I admired as a director but had yet to see perform. There was the return of what once a spastic young stage actor who had returned an eager 20-something young man with the stress of making a successful comeback. We also had the young mother of two who had her fair share of time on the stage in the past. Finally, there was the true ingenue of the group who had proven her ability to deliver a song in front of a crowd, but had yet to solidify her footing as an actor, especially among several seasoned thespians. This is the kind of line-up that mystery novels are made of.
However, this is a play. One that deals with Enid, Oklahoma’s most popular subjects; religion, sexual abuse, and persecution. One immediate praise is the show’s length. Sometimes size does matter, and I found the 80-85 minute performance to be enough to satisfy my need of things like character development, but without compromising the pacing of the overall story.
The stage was minimal, creating traditional and acceptable settings for each scene. We are immediately introduced to Father Flannery, played by a young Sean Collins. His age had concerned me greatly. His big eyes, the history of his character…and maybe the fact that I knew him when he was a pup. However, he delivered his opening sermon at a level that reminded me of old catholic churches I had attended. Reading the script, I pictured more theatrics, but Collin’s made a better choice. Playing a little subdued is perhaps part of the reason I believed that he was older (an important part of the story). So, I delightfully accept not auditioning for the role. He did a wonderful job. One thing that Collins did particularly well was find comfort in those quiet moments. Taking away the crutch of dialogues or actions for an amateur actor can all but strangle the performer with fear…too much time to wander away from the character and into self-consciousness. Collins remained focus and did not rush through Flannery’s thoughtful moments.
Christianne Chase was cast as Sister Beauvier, the strict and strong-willed head nun. She was controlled and poised throughout the show (either as the vindictive woman out to have things her way or as the champion rallying against evil, depending on your final view). She, like Collins, had a clear focus and made the character near concrete. She worked very well with Mary Aika, who played Sister James and provided one of my favorite scenes with Dawn Hegwood, the mother of the alleged victim in the story. It was strong and purposeful and for me, provided my greatest moment of reflection. Hegwood looked and sounded the part of a black 1964 struggling mother. She is new and has been impressing audiences with her great amount of growth in such a short time. She still does little things like keep her face upstage to who she’s talking to (a tactic we all do starting out before the confidence sets in),but Hegwood was convincing when paired up against such a strong performer as Chase. In fact, they probably provided my favorite scene of the show. If Chase had been blocked further downstage somehow (as she was in many scenes with Aika) to force Hegwood’s face out to the auditorium, that may have solved my only issue. Meanwhile, Aika served as the source of unquestionable goodness in the show. She maintained her character’s gentle nature without disappearing. The duo of Aika and Chase proved to be effective in tethering us to both sides of the issue.
The key element that made this show was the lack of force on anyone’s part. No one seem to take a scene anywhere that wasn’t genuine, living only in what that moment brought. Director Maly succeeded in finding and executing the balance needed for a show like this to work. In my opinion, it fails as a literary work but excels as a performance (or rather, it should be seen, not read).
The show itself is one that handles an uncomfortable matter with general grace. There are plenty of comedies and song and dance numbers, but sometimes it is okay to step away and enrich your mind. This show is about questions, not answers. It’s a far more poignant show than anyone will say, because we live in a world where we speak of everything with such certainty even without anything to support it. This show is food for thought. If you doubt my word, check it out for yourself. If you doubt my sanity, I’m sorry but the pills are working.
If interested in seeing a well-acted show or you feel like doing some psychological yoga, tickets are still available. This weekend is the final weekend. Contact info is above.