Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Miracle in Rwanda

Leslie Lewis Sword’s performance drew me in and held me for this hour-long show; for me she became Immaculee Ilibagiza, the survivor of the 1994 Rwanda genocide she portrays. I felt her fear as she hid in a small bathroom with 11 other people for two months while her fellow Tutsis were being slaughtered.

She also became the pastor who hid them, the Hutu militia who hunted them and her father in this one-woman play she created with Edward Vilga. It was performed Sunday as the final work in 59E59 Theaters’ East to Edinburgh series and will be seen throughout August at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It should be well received.

I liked the way much of the story is told through prayer. As Immaculee hides, she prays the rosary, personalizing it to her situation. She talks to Jesus as she begins each decade of the Sorrowful mysteries -- the agony in the garden she understands now from her own suffering in that small space, knowing, as Jesus did, that people want to kill her.

But the Lord’s Prayer, which is said throughout the rosary, stops her. She cannot bring herself to utter the words “as we forgive those who trespass against us.” As the weeks go on, though, and she persists in prayer, the miracle happens. She reaches the troubling part and is able to say the words and mean them. Only then is she able to truly pray the Glorious mysteries, beginning with the Resurrection.

The story of the slaughter of nearly one million Tutsi is now familiar to us through news accounts and possibly even more so through the powerful movie, “Hotel Rwanda.” Ms. Sword has chosen to tell one of those stories from a faith perspective, which should provide much theological reflection for members of her audience. I have certainly given it a great deal of thought.

It has been written that forgiveness is the hardest and most important lesson we have to learn on this earth, ranking even higher than the importance of love. “Miracle in Rwanda” shows how difficult -- yet ultimately necessary -- it is if one is to move beyond survival into life and resurrection.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


With the exception of some heavy-duty overacting on the part of a few men in the cast, “Sin” is an interesting theatrical experience. Set in San Francisco on the eve of the 1989 earthquake, it is a modern morality play in which a judgmental traffic reporter is forced to deal with the Seven Deadly Sins as represented by various people in her life. It takes an act of God and personal tragedies to help her recognize which of these Sins rules her life.
Megan Hill as Avery is the strongest cast member, which is fortunate since it is her story. Playing a 31-year-old helicopter-flying traffic reporter, "Avery Bly On High," she looks down on the world from her perch in the sky as well as in her perfectionist judgments on other people’s failings.
I also liked Douglas Scott Sorenson as her brother, Gerard, who is dying of AIDS. His gallows humor, and the way he delivers it, are the highlight of the first act.
Wendy MacLeod’s play did what a good play should do -- it got us talking. First at intermission as we tried to think what the Seven Deadly Sins were. (Although I grew up Roman Catholic and sin was definitely overly emphasized in my home and my parochial school, I don’t recall any discussion of just these seven biggies, which for the record are envy, gluttony, lust, wrath, greed, sloth and pride.) Later, we talked about the play during the taxi ride home.
 "Sin" was originally developed at Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage and premiered at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in 1995. In a 1994 commentary for the “Chicago Tribune,” the playwright, who describes herself as a lapsed Catholic, wrote about developing a play around the personification of Sins.
“I like the idea that all bad behavior falls into one of the seven recognizable categories, and it was fun writing characters who push the comic envelope of each particular Sin,” MacLeod wrote. “But in rewriting and in rehearsal at the Goodman Theatre, we reminded ourselves that these characters represent real people and must therefore be believable, even understandable. To sin is to be human (although, arguably, to sin egregiously is to be inhuman).
“But if the Sins in the play need to sin a little less, maybe my heroine, Avery, needs to sin a little more. And in the course of one night, the night of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, Avery discovers that the people she dismissed so easily in the first act are more complicated than she thought. The Sins don't change, but Avery's perception of them does.
“Medieval morality plays all ended with a lesson, such as ‘Only good deeds go with you to the grave.’ Everything was black or white. What makes my play a contemporary morality play is that it explores gray. Is sin a sin? Is righteousness right? And in medieval morality plays, God is taken for granted, whereas in my play there is only humanity, and humanity is feeling particularly stranded in the middle of an AIDS epidemic in the middle of an earthquake.”
I wish I had seen this show earlier in its run so I could recommend it to you, as it is definitely worth thinking about. Unfortunately, the Bohemian Archaeology production of “Sin” was to finished its run today at the Abingdon Theatre on West 36th Street.
For information about the company, visit www.BohemianArchaeology.org.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Try optimism

"No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit."
-- Helen Keller

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Thousand Cranes

I was deeply moved by this simple play. It’s amazing what three actors with a few props can do in only 40 minutes. “A Thousand Cranes” is based on the true story of Sadako, a 12-year-old Japanese girl, and her battle with leukemia. I had heard this story before but forgotten its details. They were brought beautifully to life in this production of Kathryn Schultz Miller’s play.
Two years old when the bomb fell on Hiroshima, Sadako was sheltered by her mother and seemed to have escaped damage. Ten years later, she is training to run in a race, pushing herself to go faster and faster. When fatigue sets in and she is unable to run much, her illness is diagnosed.
As her situation seems hopeless medically, she embraces an old legend, that if she makes 1,000 paper cranes her wish will be granted by the gods. We see her pursue this task as determinedly as she did her running, but death takes her before she completes it. In the epilogue, standing on a chair, she tells us that her classmates finished the project for her and that Sadako is honored with a statue atop a peace monument in a Japanese park, where she stands holding a golden crane.
Holly Payne-Strange is appealingly vulnerable as Sadako, although I wish the cast had been Japanese. My friend Mary Sheeran suggested that maybe director Masha Obolensky was trying to portray universality, but I would have preferred specificity. This is the story of a particular horror that would have been strengthened by an Asian cast, especially since Obolensky uses recordings of ancestors speaking in Japanese and is good about recreating customs of honoring those ancestors who are portrayed as Japanese in drawings on screens always present behind Sadako and her family.
“A Thousand Cranes” was presented in only one performance at 59E59 Theaters as part of East to Edinburgh 2007, 12 American productions headed to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world. As part of this I will be seeing “Grasmere” on Thursday, so stay tuned for that posting.


Sunday, July 15, 2007


"All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Sisters of Charity of New York follow a similar idea -- trusting an unknown future to a known God.

Friday, July 13, 2007


What a crazy little show, a combination of Broadway musical and “Saturday Night Live.” Actually it was more SNL than I would have liked, but anything that features, much less stars, Kerry Butler is OK with me.

I wish I had seen the 1980 movie “Xanadu” before seeing this musical parody because I felt left out of some to the jokes. The woman behind me laughed hysterically throughout and the audience in general laughed from beginning to end.

The premise has comic potential (silly comic potential) -- muses who come to life out of a sidewalk chalk mural find that rather than their intended destination of Venice in 1780, they have ended up in Venice Beach, CA, in 1980, which sets the stage for an evening full of jokes about that cultural wasteland of an era. Most were funny, but then instantly forgettable. The muses -- nine sisters, two of whom are gay men -- end up offering their inspiration to Sonny, the creator of the chalk art who is ready to commit suicide until the goddess Clio (Butler), known now on earth as Kira, inspires him to open a theatre for all arts -- dance, music, drama, painting -- in a disco roller rink.

Butler dances around on roller skates as if she had been born on them, all the while singing and hamming it up in a comic imitation of Olivia Newton-John, who starred in the from all accounts ghastly movie. She sings the songs from the movie, some of which had made it to the radio at the time but I had completely forgotten them until I heard them again. They did, indeed, seem like something from a distant time.

I have been a Kerry Butler fan since I saw her in “Bat Boy: The Musical,” another crazy little show, many years ago off-Broadway. Since then I’ve enjoyed her in “Prodigal” (a tiresome musical in which she had a small part), “Hairspray,” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” Like Kristin Chenoweth, she seems born to do musical comedy. I’m glad to see her now in a starring role -- she deserves it -- and she looks as if she’s having the time of her life.

I also really liked Cheyenne Jackson as Sonny. The part was supposed to be play by James Carpinello, but he is sidelined for awhile after injuring a foot skating in previews. While I’m sorry he got hurt and had to miss the opening of a show he had worked so hard on, I can’t imagine anyone better in the part than Jackson. I had liked him in “All Shook Up,” another quirky comedy that poked fun at itself, only did a more entertaining job of it, I thought, than “Xanadu.” He embodies the good looking, laid back, none-too-bright dude perfectly. I thoroughly enjoyed the show whenever he and Butler were performing, which thankfully was most of the time.

But when they weren’t . . . I found the most tedious scenes to be those involving Mary Testa who as Clio/Kira’s jealous oldest sister had a role that was always over the top.

All-in-all, it’s a fun evening, luckily only 90 minutes long -- any more would have really pushed it. Kerry Butler is the real reason for my pleasure. Watching her flit and sparkle around is a joy. Congratulations Kerry!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Just Like Heaven

I got this charming little movie out of the library yesterday and watched it last night. It’s a lovely way to spend a hot summer night -- a light romantic comedy starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo, who proves how funny he can be. (I already knew how funny Reese is.)
Ruffalo plays David, a man still mourning for his wife who died two years ago. He sublets an apartment -- with a great view of San Francisco! -- in which Witherspoon, as Elizabeth, appears at unexpected times. He thinks she’s a spirit; she thinks she’s alive. Together they set out to find the truth and, no surprise, fall in love.
I had never heard of this movie, but I’m so glad I stumbled upon it. I enjoyed it from beginning to end and will probably get it out again sometime. Check it out!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Old Acquaintance

This is a really fun show for a summer evening. The acting is great, the sets are magnificent and John van Druten’s 1940 play doesn’t really even seem dated. My friend Carolyn Hearn who went with me and is an even harsher critic than I enjoyed it too. I don’t see how anyone wouldn’t.
The play is one of those sophisticated comedies about two longtime friends, Kit, a writer of “good” books, the kind that receive much praise but little money, and Milly, the prolific author of junky best-selling romances. What keeps “Old Acquaintance” from being just another predictable, silly -- dated -- comedy are the sharp script and the ensemble, but most especially Margaret Colin who plays Kit. She stands out just as she did in “Defiance,” for which she won a Drama Desk nomination. Every word, gesture, facial expression and movement are so real. No matter who else was on stage or what else was happening, she was the center of attention for me.
Harriet Harris is certainly first rate as Milly, but hers is the low comedy, slapstick role -- which she does beautifully -- but it’s not the kind of part that makes her seem believable as a person.
And then there’s Alexander Dodge’s sets. They’re so spectacular they receive generous applause the first time the curtain rises on each. One even receives a laugh when a shelf of books in Kit’s book-lined living room is pulled down to reveal a well-stocked bar. Oh those 40s comedies and their cocktail drinking characters!
Enjoy this show while you can. It closes Aug. 19.