L&S America Online   Subscribe
Home Lighting Sound AmericaNewsLSA DirectoryEventsContacts

-Today's News

-Last 7 Days

-Business News

-People News

-Product News

-Theatre in Review

-Subscribe to News

-Subscribe to LSA Mag

-News Archive

-Media Kit

-A Theatre Project Book

-PLASA Events

Theatre in Review: The Healing (Theater Breaking Through Barriers/Theatre Row)

Mary Theresa Archbold, John McGinty. Photo: Carol Rosegg

I've begun to think of Samuel D. Hunter as the stealth missile of playwrights; he works so quietly and seamlessly that when the dramatic explosion comes, it is always a surprise. This is certainly what happens with The Healing, a play that opens quietly and maintains a determinedly casual, low-key tone until the eleventh hour. Even when the action finally coalesces into a stark confrontation, the characters barely speak above a hush. By the careful accretion of details, however, he ensnares us in a web of relationships linked by a traumatic event that continues to reverberate a quarter century after it took place.

The Healing appears to have been conceived specifically for Theater Breaking Through Barriers, a company that provides opportunities for actors with disabilities. Twenty-five years earlier, Sharon, Donald, Bonnie, Laura, and Zoe attended the same summer camp; as the only disabled kids there, they formed a tight bond. Now they have reunited for the funeral of Zoe, who, it only gradually becomes clear, killed herself by lying down in the snow in her front yard, quietly freezing to death.

Zoe's death would be difficult enough for them to accept; that she was deeply religious makes it all the more mystifying. Then again, religion played a terrible, and catalytic, role in all their lives. Joan, the woman who ran the camp, was a devout Christian Scientist who planted in their young minds the idea that, through prayer, they could be "cured" -- for example, that Sharon could be freed from her wheelchair. (Hers is one of two disabilities specified by the script.) As Sharon says, her voice bristling with suppressed fury, Joan "made us believe there was something wrong with us." After a couple of years, the kids, now adolescents, rebelled and exposed Joan's practices; the camp was shut down and Joan was barred from working with children.

The action takes place after the funeral, as the friends gather to clean out Zoe's house. (She appears to have no family.) Sharon, who is all business, takes charge of the effort, her flat affect and constant insistence that everything is "fine" indicative of a deep anger long held in check. She is closest to Donald, but clearly is deeply unhappy that he invited Joan to the service. (His decision will have repercussions later on.) She isn't much happier with Bonnie who arrives late, accompanied by Greg, her deaf -- and strikingly handsome -- new boyfriend. (Both Sharon and Donald haven't had a lot of luck in the man department lately, and one senses a lingering jealousy.) Bonnie, for her part, can't believe that Laura is staying in Zoe's house, sleeping in the dead woman's bed.

With remarkable economy and not a hint of sentimentality, Hunter sketches in the characters and the ways they are relate to each other, with equal parts affection and disapproval. In a series of flashbacks, we learn that Zoe, who alone among them retained a belief in Christian Science, chose, of all people, the atheist Sharon as her spiritual partner, relying on her to help her pray her way out of illness. (We see Sharon pleading with Zoe, who has strep throat, to visit a doctor; Zoe remains staunch in her faith, unwittingly driving her friend to distraction.) Out of reminiscences and tiny confrontations, Sharon's guilt is laid bare; with the best of intentions, she betrayed Zoe's beliefs and now fears that she played a role in her death. So powerful is her pain that she must displace it; in a quiet, but icy, confrontation with Joan, now a rather lost old lady, Sharon seeks a moral accounting from her that -- as she comes to discover -- she can never really have. Instead, Joan, of all people, comes to suggest that Zoe's faith may be the thing that killed her.

More than any other American playwright, Hunter writes plays that present a highly nuanced view of religion; if he can be severely critical of some branches of Christianity, he never dismisses his characters' spiritual hungers. His is a world without monsters, only people damaged by life and therefore capable of making terrible, destructive mistakes. There's no question that Joan perpetrated a monstrous lie on Sharon, Zoe, and the others, yet she did so with the best of intentions -- and, apart from Zoe's rather childish believe in "angel messages" and Sharon's cold insistence on the existence of nothingness, the other characters have more complicated relationships with the concept of faith. Hunter also knows that trying to affix the blame for one's sorrow on others rarely works -- and thus Sharon's would-be showdown with Joan leads instead to a moment of hard-won wisdom.

Under the meticulous direction of Stella Powell-Jones, the cast convincingly creates one of those circles of friends who can easily take up with each other, no matter how long they have been apart. Shannon DeVido's Sharon is indisputably the leader of the group, a woman who prefers action to introspection, and who doesn't need to raise her voice when condemning another; at the same time, we see her deep attachment to Zoe (played with quiet radiance by Pamela Sabaugh) and the pain it causes her. David Harrell's Donald is the group's peacemaker, watching the others warily for signs of conflict. Jamie Petrone's Bonnie, as casual as Sharon is controlling, is especially strong when discovering that the details of Zoe's death have been kept from her. She creates a thoroughly believable bond with John McGinty as Greg, who, as a stranger to the group, is often in the position of asking questions that the audience would like answered. Mary Theresa Archbold captures Laura's long struggle with depression. Lynne Lipton makes the most of her brief scene as Joan -- her faith gone, her guilt painfully evident to herself, yet her very real love for the others still undimmed.

Jason Simms' living room set is loaded with bric-a-brac -- figurines, straw baskets, American eagle sculptures -- that Zoe has amassed from too many years of living alone and watching television shopping channels. Alejandro Fajardo's lighting is set at a fairly low level -- Laura has migraines and can't stand bright light -- without being murky; he also clearly signals each flashback with distinct changes in brightness and color temperature. Christopher Metzger's costumes are filled with subtle clues to each character. Brandon Wolcott's sound design includes the running undertone from the television, which is always tuned to QVC.

The Healing ends pretty much as it started, with an air of quietude, but don't you fall for it. Something major has happened to Sharon and the others, even if they don't fully acknowledge it. Salvation is found in small gestures; if they get you through another day, they may not be so small after all. -- David Barbour

(23 June 2016)

E-mail this story to a friendE-mail this story to a friend

LSA Goes Digital - Check It Out!

Follow us on Facebook  Follow us on Twitter