Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Warning: crisis of faith ahead

Posted By on Wed, Sep 15, 2010 at 10:48 AM

Hey, people, I’m all for freedom of religion and have no problem with folk who beat themselves up over their myriad backslidings. Religions are perfectly configured to help us deal with a colossal, inscrutable universe, and they give us beautifully structured ways to cope with our imperfections and misdeeds.

But when I’m taking refuge at a theater from wackos who claim to be battling on behalf of the true God, from blowhard ignoramuses who insist that ours is a Christian nation, and from bigots who would ban or burn anything that offends their rarefied sensibilities, I’d rather not spend the evening with Christians who are experiencing a crisis of faith. Or wrestling with their faith. Believe or don’t believe, that is the answer for such tedious self-dramatization. Considering all the havoc they wreak, one less true believer would hardly be a tragedy.

I daresay playwright Keith Bunin would disagree with me and maintain that the teetering of a single Christian soul between belief and non-belief is hugely significant, if not cosmic. For in his cloistered drama, The Busy World Is Hushed, presented last week at South Pointe High School by The Edge Theatre Company, Hannah and her son Thomas have gone through years of faith-based anguish after the death of Thomas’s father, presumably by suicide.

Hannah, a minister and Biblical scholar, is searching for the true Jesus in non-canonical Gospels. Thomas, the family’s designated doubter, has been searching for himself, crisscrossing the country and frittering away his talents in a series of unlikely jobs and risky behaviors. Into their midst comes young Brandt, ace editor and ghost writer, who is turning Hannah’s ramblings into disciplined prose – while turning Thomas’s head, since both young men are gay.

Though I found it encouraging that Hannah wasn’t homophobic, Kerri Marks was far too serene in the role, short on the emotion, religious or scholarly fervor, and maternal warmth that might spark this musty tale. Nor was director Jimmy Chrismon inclined to emphasize that Hannah must be a dominant personality to repel her son and send him careening across a continent. So the entire family ecosystem felt derailed. Brad Tarr’s take on Thomas was vivid enough, but this jack-of-all-trades seemed more immature and irresponsible than he might have if his mom weren’t so calm and genial. Chemistry between Thomas and Brandt was far more interesting, largely because Nick Iammatteo’s hearty immersion in all of Brandt’s trials – his father’s impending death, his attraction to his employer’s son, and his loss of faith.

Yet in the opening scene, when Brandt was extracting porcupine quills from Thomas’s calf, we didn’t see the slightest sparking of attraction. Capturing the playwright’s religious spirit all too well, Chrismon was far more vigilant in pointing up the ponderous import of losing faith.

What Bunin and Chrismon never grasp is that, if you’re constantly fretting over losing your faith, it’s absurd to think you’ve lost it. People of that sort are asphyxiated by their faith, a peculiarly Christian affliction.

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