Wednesday, March 11, 2020

'72 Miles to Go. . . '




     The Unitarian pastor at a desert church in Tucson is delivering a retirement sermon, starting with a string of corny jokes before getting to the moving message that will be his parting gift to his congregation. It is also the gift playwright Hilary Bettis gives to the audience at the Laura Pels Theatre in the world premiere of her play 72 Miles to Go. . .

     "The older I get, the more I realize that it's not the grand events that give our lives meaning and purpose," says Billy (Triney Sandoval). "It's the small everyday moments we take for granted."

     After mentioning the first time he saw his wife, the sound of his three children's small bare feet pattering around the house and the five of them sitting around the table making small talk over dinner, he says he regrets not paying enough attention to every little detail.

     "And now that I'm standing here in front of all of you, I can't help but ask why we don't realize how profound and beautiful and sacred these everyday moments are until they're gone."

     Over the course of an engaging 90 minutes we go back in time eight years from 2016 when the sermon is delivered to witness many small moments and their significance for this family because one member is missing, present only as a voice over a cell phone on speaker or an outgoing voice message. Anita (Maria Elena Ramirez) was deported to Nogales, Mexico -- 72 miles away -- and her husband and children live on the hope they will one day be reunited. It's a credit to Bettis's script, Jo Bonney's direction and the excellent ensemble cast that this show is not a downer but rather a little slice of love and humanity. With Rachel Hauck's set of a small apartment consisting of a kitchen and living room sparsely filled with inexpensive furniture, I felt a part of this world. The family was real to me and I cared about them.

     Christian (Bobby Moreno) is the oldest child; in the play he goes from 23 to 31. He was just a little boy when Billy found him and Anita hiding in the desert where Billy had been leaving water bottles for people crossing the border. Billy married Anita and raised Christian as his son, although their relationship is severed for years as the adult Christian tries to find work and lives in fear of being deported. He dreams of being a Marine but, being undocumented, this is impossible for him.

     The youngest child is Aaron (Tyler Alvarez), who ranges from 14 to 22. He's into science and is the one who does become a Marine. He loves his older brother and worries about him when he is late. This is a family well aware of the constant threat of deportation.

     Eva (Jacqueline Guillen) is the center of the family. Starting as a 17-year-old and continuing until she is 25, she is the caretaker, cooking and running the home and putting her life on hold until her mother returns.

     Anita tries to stay a part of their lives through her speaker phone conversations and the admonitions she leaves on her outgoing message, which tells them to eat vegetables. It's her way of being a good mother. She also tells Eva, "Don't wear too much makeup. All that blue eye shadow makes you look cheap." That's typical of what a mother would tell her daughter. It's just usually done face-to-face.

     The most moving of the phone exchanges is when Billy and Anita celebrate their wedding anniversary. Billy sits at the table with a candle lit and a vase of red roses, sharing with Anita by the cell's speaker phone the kind of loving conversation they would have had if they had been together. Then she says she wants to dance so Billy, a bit awkwardly at first, holds the small phone between his encircled arms and talks with Anita as he slowly dances around the room. It is heartbreaking and touching.

     The play moves in time to where it began, with Billy's farewell sermon. He suggests if we can just get over our our fears and egos, "then maybe, just maybe, we can treasure the people we love, the places we love, the everyday moments with every ounce of our existence.

     "Believe me, I know it's easier said than done. But that's what I'm going to try and do with the rest of my life.

     "Because this moment, right here, right now, is all we have."

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

New play uses song, dance and story to tell tale of 16th century slave rebellion leader



     The empty rehearsal room was quiet in late afternoon, a peaceful contrast to the hustle and bustle of buses, cars and people visible through the windows looking out on 125th Street, one of Harlem's busiest thoroughfares. Darrel Alejandro Holnes had come here to talk about his latest play, Bayano, which two weeks later would have its first public exposure in a workshop presentation upstairs at the National Black Theatre.

     It's been a two-year journey to get to this point, from first applying to NBT's I AM SOUL Playwrights Residency program, through acceptance and writing and rewriting the play. Using The Odyssey as inspiration, Holnes wanted to tell the story of Bayano, a 16th century enslaved African king who led the largest slave rebellion in Panama against the colonial Spanish.

     "He was the Harriet Tubman figure of Panama," Holnes says. "He was the greatest colonial liberator anywhere in Latin America."

     Throughout the creation of Bayano, as he has with his other work and his life, Holnes has been strengthened by his Catholic upbringing and the African spirituality that mingled with it in Panama. He wears a silver cross containing sand from Jerusalem, a gift from his mother, over his cream-colored sweater, an outward sign of his faith. This faith is needed now more than ever, he says, when he has trouble finding anything hopeful in the news.

     "Faith is ultimately where I find my optimism," he says. "It's helped me move forward through this process despite many setbacks."

     Born in Houston, Holnes was raised in a suburb seven minutes outside of Panama City. He returned to the United States at 17 in 2005 to attend Loyola University in New Orleans but never completed the first semester because Hurricane Katrina left the school under water. He transferred to the University of Houston, then went on to the University of Michigan for graduate school.

     It was his grandmother, "the spiritual center of our family," who influenced his faith formation. She moved to Panama from Costa Rica in the early 20th century.

     "The church gave her pride, place and a sense of community. So much of her life was shaped by her commitment of faith."

     But Holnes is also aware of the church's role in protecting the institution of slavery in Panama. Portraying this along with creating a theatrical drama of song, dance and story around Bayano's life was important. Holnes had first learned about Bayano in elementary school, but mostly it was in relationship to news of rebellions and slave escapes. He wanted to explore the history, spirituality and liberation of this man.

     "The story was well documents but never from his perspective or a black perspective. I've done my best to try to honor what his perspective was and give him a voice. It's the story of a great liberator and also tells the story of the struggle with faith."

     And he's worked to understand both sides of the church in colonial Panama.

     "The church's role in faith helped Africans get up in the morning but religion was also used to explain and use slavery."

     In addition to a solid body of work and awards, Holnes also has the distinction of being the first Panamanian-America to receive a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship -- in 2019 for his poetry -- and is one of only two artists of Panamanian descents to ever receive the honor. In addition to writing, he teaches at New York University and Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York.

     "In a lot of my plays the characters are always struggling with their faith," he says. "To believe is to ask questions. My characters are always asking questions about life and its responsibilities."

     While he still sees Catholicism "as part of my community" and worships at Sagrado Corazon de Jesus Catholic Church when he is in Panama, he now attends Middle Collegiate Church on Manhattan's Lower East Side because its practices of service are much closer to those those he experienced as a child.

     "I grew up with a community of Catholic churches that were incredibly active in social justice. I grew up thinking that being Catholic is volunteering in a soup kitchen. I felt the Catholic Church was to be a voice of the poor and needy. I feel the Catholic Church in the United States has a different dynamic. Middle Church is very activist-oriented and really lives by faith."

     Throughout the 45-minute interview, Holnes holds a hand-carved wooded staff with the head of an African man that he bought in Cuba.

     "It makes me feel close to this project. I think what it would be like to be someone enslaved. They take everything from you so you own nothing. You would want something of your own so you go out and make it."

     After Bayano's March 11 through 15 workshop presentation Holnes will work toward getting the show into a fully staged production, which he hopes will make people feel empowered.

     "What I admire about Bayano is that he really took his freedom into his own hands. We should be able to do even more. We can break from things that oppress us. I hope people will try hard to feel they can free themselves from anything they feel is holding them back."

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Blues for an Alabama Sky



     Spending Saturday afternoon on Theatre Row at Blues for an Alabama Sky was a thoroughly pleasant way to pass a couple of hours.  This 1999 play by Pearl Cleage doesn’t break any new ground or hold any real surprises, but under LA William’s direction I was transported into the Harlem Renaissance of 1930 and the world of five likable and human characters.

     Produced by the Keen Company, this play is being staged in New York for the first time, which seems strange because it’s so evocative of the city at that time and in that neighborhood.  It’s the story of Angel (Alfie Fuller, right)), a past her prime nightclub singer in Harlem joints who, as the play opens, has just been dumped by her Italian mob boss sugar daddy and fired from her job.  She’s taken in by her second cousin Guy (John-Andrew Morrison, center) who, like Angel, has migrated from Savannah to Harlem to pursue a dream.  An openly gay costume designer for marginal neighborhood performers, Guy longs to move to Paris to create for Josephine Baker, whose presence is felt in a large poster in Guy’s apartment and in his always hopeful attempts to get her attention by sending her his designs. Baker is a strong motivator for his dreams but Angel is more pragmatic.

     “I don’t see her share of the rent,” she says dryly. 

     Angel doesn’t have Guy’s natural optimism but she pushes on, going on auditions and keeping a fighting spirit.  Unfortunately, more often than not, she proves to be her own worst enemy.  Regionally she been portrayed by Phylicia Rashad, Robin Givens and Jasmine Guy.  It’s a good, well-developed part for an actor and Fuller fully brings her to life.

     But her realism can’t dampen Guy’s spirits, even after he’s attacked and beaten for being gay.

     “If you see me in a fight with a bear, help the bear,” he says.

     Their next door neighbor and friend, Delia (Jasminn Johnson, second from left), works in a Margaret Sanger family planing clinic.  Sam (Sheldon Woodley, left) is a doctor who will end up playing a key role in both women’s lives.  Leland (Khiry Walker, second from right) is a recent widower from Alabama whose wife died in childbirth along with their son.  All of their lives become closely entwined.  I felt I was inhabiting their world for two and a half hours with this excellent cast.  Thanks also to Lindsay Jones for the mood-creating original music. 

     In a program note, Williams says he discovered the play about a decade ago and was drawn to it by the humanity of its characters and their faith and persistence.  I felt the same way. 

     Williams faced a series of rejections in his quest for a New York premiere but he persisted.

     “I refused to believe that a story about real people living on the precipice of a renaissance and a depression, while also grappling with homophobia, religion and women having agency one their own bodies, didn’t belong on the New York stage,” he wrote. 

     A big shoutout needs to go to costume designer Asa Benally. The play may be set at the start of the Depression but these characters have great wardrobes.  Scenic designer You-Shin Chen created a simple but effective set for the side-by-side apartments, with that large poster of Baker representing the striving of these characters. 

     But striving becomes hard for Angel.

     “I’m tired of Negro dreams,” she says.  “They don’t come true.”

     In Blues, some do and some don’t.  Head to Theatre Row to find out the fates of these engaging characters. Performances continue through March 14.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

A Soldier's Play



     Investigating a murder is challenging under any circumstances, but for a black Army captain looking for answers on a segregated base in 1944 Louisiana, the level of racism and hate he uncovers force him to reexamine his own identity and question his beliefs.  From this core, director Kenny Leon spins a fast-paced Broadway debut for Charles Fuller's 1981 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, A Soldier's Play, a Roundabout Theatre Company production at the American Airlines Theatre through March 15. 

     Blair Underwood (in photo) as Captain Richard Davenport and David Alan Grier as the murdered black officer, Sergeant Vernon C. Waters, give fully committed performances, as does the entire ensemble.  The story, which was considered too revolutionary for Broadway in the early 1980s and so played Off-Broadway, was inspired by Fuller's own Army experience.  In a tension-filled two hours Davenport observes multi-level racism, and not just from white officers unconcerned about the shooting of a black man to begin with, and certainly not respectful of a black officer.  He also learns that motive goes beyond the usual southern white hatred.  Waters, whose contempt for many of his own people is as hideous as that of the white racists, has given his own men strong motives of their own.

     Derek McLane's simple set consists of little more than the outline of a wooden two-level structure connected by an onstage staircase and cots that roll out for barracks scenes and away to open the action.  Lighting designer Allen Lee Hughes nicely conveys the foreboding and darkness of the play.  No fancy set is necessary.  These two artists create the perfect atmosphere. 

     The knee-jerk reaction to the shooting death of a black man in the woods in the deep South had been to chalk it up to the Ku Klux Klan.  That was fine with the white officers until the NAACP began calling for an inquiry and Davenport, a driven Washington-based self-described "lawyer the segregated Armed Services couldn't find a place for," is brought in.

     He isn't on the base five minutes before he gets a taste for what he's up against.  The first words out of the mouth of the unit's white commanding officer, Captain Charles Taylor (Jerry O'Connell), are: "Forgive me for occasionally staring, Davenport.  You're the first colored officer I've ever met."  It gets worse from there.  The racism is so ingrained that Davenport can't question a white suspect without a white officer present.  This is a culture that has thrived on suppression.  It will take a strong man to uncover the truth while retaining his self-worth.  That is the drama that plays beside the obvious search for the guilty.  Although this theme has been played out many times over the years, I found this telling to be involving and meaningful. 

     A Soldier's Play was originally produced by the Negro Ensemble Company and made into a 1984 movie re-titled "A Soldier's Story." 

This Weekend—Original Sacred Solo Drama at the Church of the Transfiguration, Cape Cod


Jan. 31 & Feb. 1—Turmoil. Injustice. Uncertainty. Is there any hope? The wild Oaks are still standing—the secret keepers. Strong promises are held in their deep roots, and ancient wisdom in their bark. Will there be an end to the struggle? Embark on a journey and witness the struggle for peace in a seemingly hopeless situation.

Elements Theatre Company presents Oaks of Mamre: A Retelling of an Ancient Story at the Church of the Transfiguration, Cape Cod. The production is the fourth original solo sacred drama presented by the company’s Artistic Director, Sr. Danielle Dwyer, and is part of the Sacred Drama Series Exploring Transfigured Lives. This gutsy story will be enhanced by originally composed percussive music, as well as a massive set featuring a big Oak tree over twenty feet tall.
“We commend this theater group for seeking to be agents of change through art.”
—AMERICA Magazine
Under the direction of Sr. Danielle Dwyer, Elements Theatre Company has stirred and inspired minds and hearts of audiences through dramatic storytelling and imaginative stagecraft of both classical and modern works, both nationally and internationally. The Company's commitment to integrity and intensity of language and context, devotion to the transformative work to become the text, and courage to delve into the scope of humanity has resulted in high acclaim for their performance authenticity and honesty.

For Tickets: Call 508-240-2400, purchase online at elementstheatre.org, or at the door.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Watching history unfold in Baltimore



     The cover of the large picture book has a sepia quality, with a little girl waving from a carousel horse.  I sense a time long ago and, indeed, that is what the book is about.

     This little girl happens to be black and that is important because she represents the author on a historic day in Baltimore. On Aug. 28, 1963 11-month-old Sharon Langley became the first African-American child to ride the carousel at Gwynn Oak Amusement Park on the day it was integrated.  That day represented the end of an eight-year effort to desegregate the park.  It was for many a great day.

     I was there that day too.  Like Sharon, I was taken by a parent but my experience was quite different.  Sharon’s first day at the park turned out to be my last.  I was 8 and my mother took me not for the rides, but for the excitement.  I watched as a long line of mostly black people marched through the doors, never to be kept out again.  For me it would be just the opposite because I was a white child.  As we walked back to the car later, my mother said, “Well, you’ll never go there again.”

     And she was right.  I was never taken again nor was any child I knew.  A large part of white Baltimore abandoned the park. The racism that had kept the black children out now kept the white children out.  Sharing the park was unthinkable to a great many people in1963 Baltimore.

     Langley now lives in Los Angeles.  Unlike me, she was too young to remember that August day but it has always been a part of her life’s story, recounted to her by her parents and captured forever in a Baltimore Sun photo the next day showing a slightly apprehensive-looking baby in a dress with a lace collar and a tiny cardigan being held on the horse by her father.  

     Now, 56 years later, Langley has recreated that experience in a children’s book.  A Ride to Remember: A Civil Rights Story is beautifully drawn by Floyd Cooper, a Coretta Scott King Award-winning illustrator, and co-written with Amy Nathan whose 2011 book Round and Round Together tells the story of Gwynn Oak’s integration in the context of the times. 

     I’ve never met Langley but in the last few years I feel I’ve come to know her.  After I wrote an op-ed for The Sun in 2015 about my experience of the park’s integration, I received many emails from people in Baltimore who fondly recalled their days at Gwynn Oak or their pain at being excluded.  One man told me a baby named Sharon Langley had been the first black child to ride the carousel.  A few days later I received a Facebook Friend request from Langley and, recognizing her name from his email, quickly accepted.  Our postings since then show we have a great deal in common in terms of our feelings toward politics, spirituality and the arts.

     After reading her book I asked to interview her about it and to discuss the day our paths crossed with such different results.  That day had been recounted to her as triumphant.  I didn’t need anyone to recount the day for me.  The images are strongly burned into my memory — a street lined on either side mostly by white people and policemen, a long wait and then a procession of mostly black people approaching, more black people than I had ever seen.  The tension was palpable.  I felt small and afraid of what was going to happen.  Fortunately the integration was peaceful but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I understood the significance of that day.

     Langley’s voice is warm when she calls me one Saturday evening in late autumn and once again it surprises me that we don’t actually know each other.  I tell her I love how she has told her story and that the illustrations are so lovely that I have the book on my coffee table.  She says she cried when she opened the box from her publisher and saw it.

     “I was a little concerned that people would think it was such a long time ago but it’s still important because of the times we live in now, especially with things that affect children.  There are still things we can do.  We can still care.  You need the corrective history.  You need to know.”

     Langley’s parents, who are deceased, had been planning to go to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech, but they couldn’t find a babysitter.  Instead, knowing  Gwynn Oak was opening to all that same day, they dressed their only child for the occasion and walked into history.

     “I knew about my mom’s activism,” Langley said, explaining that she had been brought up on stories of how her mother as a high schooler in the 1950s helped end segregation in her small town in Kentucky.  “My thinking was that this is something we do.  Even though I was very little, they could have chosen not to take me.  They were making a statement. They were making a statement to me.  We can make a difference.  One family can.”

     She hopes her book will show this, written as it is from the eyes of a young black child asking her parents why black children had been kept out of the park.  The parents explain segregation and the Civil Rights Movement in a way the child can understand.  Langley wants children to know that they too can make a difference. 

     “‘Can you be a part of change?’  Sure you can.  We have an obligation to be part of change.”

     Nathan approached Langley about co-writing a children’s book nearly four years ago.  Langley felt her experience as an educator — she was an elementary school teacher for 10 years — would shape the book to make a strong impact on children.  She had taught her pupils about segregation and social change and knew how to frame the subjects in terms of unkindness versus kindness.

     “Even young children understand the idea of hurting people, of feeling left out, and that there were other groups who felt it was wrong and were motivated to make change.”

     This was the case at Gwynn Oak where quiet yearly protests began in 1955.  These protests gained steam before coming to a head in the summer of 1963.  The Forth of July brought the largest crowd yet to the park northwest of Baltimore City, just across the county line.  Hundreds of protestors were arrested, including black and white priests, rabbis and ministers from up and down the East Coast.  It was the first Civil Rights protest for one young white man.  Sadly, there would not be many more.  Michael Schwerner would be murdered by the Ku Klux Klan the following year, along with Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, as part of Freedom Summer in Mississippi.  

     Gwynn Oak closed in 1972 after being heavily damaged by Hurricane Agnes.  The concessionaire for the Smithsonian bought the carousel and moved it in 1981 to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. where it stands today, welcoming all children.  A historical marker on the gate surrounding it commemorates its civil rights history.  And on one of the horses, called the Freedom Rider, the names of civil rights heroes are inscribed, including the name of young Sharon Langley on a brass plate on its saddle and on one horseshoe.  That little baby’s experience is now a ride to remember.  When Langley knows friends are going to the nation’s capital, she tells them to stop by to see the carousel and they send her selfies in front of the marker and on the horse.  Langley and I agree it’s a shame her parents didn’t live to see this memorial.

     “If you look back, Gwynn Oak was not like Disneyland,” Langley said.  “It was a small mom and pop amusement park.”  But it’s now part of history, a history we share. 

     I asked Langley what she thought when she read my op-ed about my considerably different experience of that day in 1963. Her response surprised and intrigued me.

     “Don’t laugh,” she said, pausing before saying, “I actually think we should do a two-woman show about two sides of the same coin.”


     It’s nice to think that if we do this, we will not just be in the same place at the some time again, but we will finally be together.  

Sunday, December 8, 2019

In 'Gospel of John' onstage, actor takes on John's voice, telling his story



     When actor Ken Jennings was going through a rough patch two years ago he began to memorize St. John's gospel as a way to take his mind off of his troubles.  He saw this exercise as a form of prayer and a way to follow the guidance of the Jesuits who taught him at St. Peter's Prep and St. Peter's College in Jersey City, NJ.  They had said, "No matter what happens in your life, always remember to pray."  He followed that advice.

     "It was a process," he said.  "I started to memorize not knowing if I was going to complete the task.  I was not worried about a time frame.  Then I started to realize, 'I'm getting this under my belt.'"

     Reciting the gospel -- all 21 chapters -- was so healing he decided to offer it free to churches.  The reactions so moved him that he began to envision a larger forum.  In what he calls "a gift of the Holy Spirit," he turned to a priest friend to get connected to the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture in Greenwich Village where he can now be found six or seven times a week through Dec. 29 presenting "The Gospel of John."  

     An award-winning Broadway actor who has performed alone in clues and poetry readings, Jennings, 72, had never done a one-man play.  And he doesn't consider that he is doing one now.  Other actors have taken the gospel to the stage, most notably British actor Alec McCowen who took his "St. Mark's Gospel" to Broadway and was nominated for a Tony Award.  McGowan called his work a play and took on the different characters with voices and accents as an actor would.  Jennings, who has watched the DVD of McGowan's performance, chose another approach.

     "I thought, 'What can I do that's different,'" he said during a telephone interview from his Manhattan home while the production was still in rehearsal.  "I memorized it as a prayer, not a performance.  I thought, 'I'm going to do this as a prayer, even now.’  John himself wasn't an actor.  He was a witness so he's not telling to entertain as an actor would.  He's saying, 'Look, I saw these things.  I was there.'  That's what I hope to do.  I just do it as if I'm John. The audience will realize they are seeing something different, not showbizzy at all." 

     Since he's being John, he doesn't use accents to distinguish the other characters featured in the narrative.

     "I let the story tell itself."

     But unlike in church performances when he had only "a chair and an old Bible," he now has a lighting designer (Abigail Hoke-Brady) and set designer (Charlie Corcoran).  Jennings told costume designer Tracy Christensen how he wanted to look.  "Normal street clothes.  I should look like I just walked in off the street.

     “All that's going to help me tell the story as well.  The lights have to be evocative to me and the audience to be the sights and sounds John is telling the audience about."

     The efforts have already made their mark.  DCMetro TheaterArts named “The Gospel of John” the No. 2 Christmastime show in New York, beating out such established favorites as "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker" and "The Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes,"  which is interesting considering John's gospel doesn't include the nativity.

     Jennings turned to John's gospel in his time of need because it seems more first hand, eye witness than the other gospels.  He quotes from John's conclusion: "This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things and we know that this testimony is true."

     "This was really said by a guy who was there.  He's very specific."

     Using "an incremental process" over the last two years, Jennings read and pondered the first chapter and when he had committed it to memory he moved to the second and did the same thing.  Then he went back to the first chapter and added the second.  He proceeded to do the same with all of the chapters, always going back to the beginning. 

     "That's why it took so long.  I probably would have been able to do it faster if I knew I was going to complete it.  I just did it as daily prayer."

     In preparing for the theatrical run, he read nearly a dozen scholarly treatises on John, and incorporated some phrases into his script, used the Revised Standard Version and several other Bible translations and substituted some of his own wording to make it more conversational.  Realizing he would be on stage for hours if he used the entire gospel, he made some cuts to keep the show at 90 minutes with no intermission.  Rehearsals were intense -- just himself with a director and stage manager -- and unlike anything he had ever done in terms of breath and depth.  But he felt ready for the challenge.

     "So much of theatre can dominate your life.  This is different.  In essence it becomes the prayer it began as.  It flows around my life.  In some ways that makes it easier, but it's still tiring."

     Since he felt uneasy about cutting the gospel to fit to stage time, he showed the script to a friend, the Rev. Tony Azzarto, SJ, who gave his approval.

     "I thought, 'That's only one Jesuit."  So he asked the Rev. John Beddingfield, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity, the church in his Upper East Side neighborhood where he first performed this work.  Again he was given the go-ahead.  Expanding his base, he sought out the opinions of the Rev. Scott Stearman from Metro Baptist Church where Jennings now worships, and his friend Sr. Eve Kavanaugh.  He was told by both to proceed.

     Jennings said there has been some talk of finding a way to take his performance on tour, which he hopes will happen. Asked if he speaks or prays to John for help he offers a resounding yes.

     "I ask him to help me be more you.  To be a better person and to help me perform you."