Friday, June 20, 2008

"The Busy World is Hushed": ☼ ☼ 1/2 BANG baub

At the heart of Keith Bunin's "The Busy World is Hushed" is a quest for understanding. Three characters circle the stage for two acts and spend most of their time discussing the life of Jesus and the parallels with their own lives -- which, the more they talk, become more and more intertwined.

Hannah (Anne Darragh) is an Episcopalian minister who has been sent a newly-discovered gospel of Jesus. She hires Brandt (Chad Deverman) to help her research and ghost-write a scholarly tome about this gospel. Brandt, struggling with the imminent loss of his father, can use a parent and Hannah, with trials of her own, needs someone onto whom whom she can pour her motherly feelings. It's all very neat until her wayward son Thomas (James Wagner) arrives. Brandt and Thomas are gay (the backdrop of the Episcopalian church's struggle with acceptance of homosexual pastors is embedded in the writing), so it's only a matter of time until they attempt to find Heaven in each other's arms. The Mom is perfectly happy with this arrangement -- too happy, in fact, which leads to the final inevitable blowup. No surprises here.

Anne Darragh does a marvelous job of bringing us into her world of scholarship and ministry. If she is bothered by the mysterious death of her husband, or the seemingly destructive behavior of her son, these only serve to strengthen her faith in God. Darragh has the craft to make us believe what would normally be a rather iffy rationalization.

Deverman and Darragh work beautifully off each other. But when Wagner's Thomas is in the picture it falls apart. Thomas and Brandt -- well, they don't have much chemistry. Brandt talks too much and Thomas is a jerk. Still, the audience is asked to feel empathy both for Thomas's disturbing lack of love for his mother, and for the inevitable breakup of his relationship with Brandt. Maybe it's casting, though all three actors have been excellent in other Bay Area roles (Deverman was fantastic in SF Playhouse's 'First Person Shooter'). Perhaps Robin Stanton's stand-here-speak-walk-over-there-speak direction was the best she could do with the material.

Anne Darragh is the only one with a clue and she tries hard to steal the show. The two men, when they're done groping, have little to add to the discussion.

RATINGS ☼ ☼ 1/2 BANG baub

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Busy World is Hushed" two and a half stars with one BANGLE of Praise and one bauble of despair. One of the stars is for Anne Darragh's controlled and underplayed minister; another is for the moments she and Chad Deverman comfort one another. It's nice to watch. The last half star is because Bunin's writing makes us look over our shoulder for God when we leave the theater. We realize we could drive into a pothole and never come out while God stood on the sidewalk selling the Street Sheet.

The BANGLE of Praise is given for Minister Hannah's no-nonsense moment when she stares through the stained-glass windows (that she loathes), and says: "I want my windows clear of stain. I want nothing to cloud my view of God." She is able to bare her soul and bring us with her.

The bauble of despair has to be given to the depicted amorous relationship. Perhaps both actors are gay, or one, or none -- and perhaps straight theater reviewers are not supposed to get gay groping -- baloney. Has anyone seen Octopus? Love and fire are there, or they're not. If not, please let them stop writhing on the rug.

"The Busy World is Hushed"
Aurora Theater Company
2081 Addison St., Berkeley
Thu-Sun through July 20: $40-$42

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