Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review: Breaking Through Sadness

By Michael Block

Samuel D. Hunter continues his domination of New York theater with the exceptional The Healing. The groundbreaking play from Hunter and Theater Breaking Through Barriers is a living room drama that is really real. A group of friends are reunited in devastating circumstances to pack up the home of a former friend who recently passed. Their brief reunion brings discussion of the past when the linchpin of trauma reappears.
Zoe has recently died in the snow feet from her Idaho home. Her friends, many of whom have left the area, come back to her place to pack it up before the landlord fixes it up for a new tenant. Filled with accouterments and memories, this room is home to heart-racing tension as we learn the circumstances that broke faith. The Healing is an emotionally raw play about morality and losing faith. Hunter subtly layers in exposition revealing that these individuals met and unified at a summer camp where their leader in faith instilled the beliefs of Christian Science. Joan, the woman in charge, told them as children that they could pray away their disabilities. After the hard-willed Sharon exposed Joan for her practices, the camp was shut down. For those unaware with Christian Science, this religion does not believe in the practice of medicine and may be one of the many reasons for Zoe’s downfall into depression. Commissioned by Theater Breaking Through Barriers, Hunter has written a play for and about people with disabilities. While it plays a key factor in plot, what Hunter has done has written a genuine and authentic drama about real people with real emotions. And that makes The Healing infinitely more heartbreaking. This is a delicate play where the floor is filled with eggshells and evading them is near impossible. At the core, the theme of faith plays an essential role in the lives of each individual. Having someone or something to believe in drives their actions. Because of the trauma from the past, their relationships are radically altered as they denying the truths that they need one another in this moment. Each character puts up a front or fa├žade to deny reality. From a structural standpoint, Hunter infused flashbacks into the narrative. We were able to see glimpses of Zoe. It didn’t hurt but it also didn’t necessarily propel the action further. It allowed more of an opinion to be formed while clarifying the exposition.
photo by Carol Rosegg
From top to bottom, this cast was triumphant. The ensemble lived within the overwhelming situation. As the woman who made the funeral possible, Shannon DeVido brought an edge to Sharon. Sharon tried to fight off her emotions, hoping to avoid sympathy or aid. Ironically, Sharon is like Zoe as she too had trouble seeking the help she needed. The parallels between the two were beautiful, as was DeVido’s performance. David Harrell offered a much-needed dose of humor and lightheartedness as Donald. While his character doesn’t have a giant character arch, he is the glue of the play. From the beginning, Joan is painted as this monster. Yet Lynne Lipton defies this. Her actions prior or in the moment may not have been warranted but you still manage to sympathize with her in the slightest bit. Lipton’s Joan comes off as a sweet, scared being that makes you melt. Even without her ability to apologize, you get a sense of completeness within her mere minutes on stage. It’s a mark of great storytelling that Hunter, Lipton, and director Stella Powell-Jones could achieve this so powerfully.
Powell-Jones impeccable guidance brought The Healing to great heights. With fluid direction, this piece moved yet felt lived in. Honesty was the key to Powell-Jones’ success. She granted her design team the gift of reality and a toolbox in which to work with. The scenic design from Jason Simms was intricate and deliberate. Every detail had thought. It was a very midwestern living room. From the chachkies and trinkets that filled the surfaces and walls, Simms gave Zoe a presence. The drab feeling extended into the lighting designed by Alejandro Fajardo.
The most important theme of this play is seeking help when you’re in need of help. For many people, asking for help feels like giving up but relying on others to pick up on the clues isn’t always plausible. The characters grapple with what they could have done but the sad reality is there was nothing that could be done. Hunter and Theater Breaking Through Barriers have crafted an important play in The Healing that needs attention.