Sunday, June 10, 2007


Insightful, effective ‘TWO HEADED’ at TITLEWave

September 11 will long be noted as a day that changed America and its attitude toward “foreigners.” No, this isn’t the 9/11 of 2001, this is the September day in 1857 when 127 California bound men, women and children from Arkansas and Missouri were killed by a group of zealous Mormons.

The Mormons, who practiced polygamy, were reacting not only to the “gentiles” crossing their territory, but to the fact that in 1844 Mormon prophet Joseph Smith and his son were killed in a Carthage, Missouri jail. The mass killing was a way to “revenge the death of the Mormon prophets and punish non-believers.”

Until the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and then the World Trade Center attack, the Mountain Meadows Massacre was the largest civilian atrocity of non-Native Americans, on US soil. Only one man, John Doyle Lee, was ever put on trial for the massacre. After two trials he was executed some 20 years after the event.

Though Julie Jensen’s play, ‘TWO HEADED,’ concerns the massacre, it is only one of many topics dealt with. The play, in five scenes, each spanning 10 years, examines the lives of two Mormon women, Lavinia and Hettie, from the time of the massacre. Jensen showcases the impact on the choices the women make and those made for them in the male-controlled culture.

As one reviewer states, “The perspective forces the audience to imagine what it was like to be a Mormon woman in the nineteenth century and thus understand how we all circumvent speaking freely about a lot of things. It transforms docudrama into the saga of a friendship pieced together like one of the women's painstakingly sewn quilts threatening to fray, but invariably patched together again.”

In this era of a serious bid for the US presidency by Mitt Romney, a devote Mormon, it is a perspective that may help some to understand the concepts of his religion, even in this era when the views toward pluralistic marriage have altered.

It should be noted that the author has a “deep, abiding hatred of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints” and her ‘TWO-HEADED’ is considered by believers to be a ferocious attack upon the church. Jensen sees Brigham Young’s creation as an “edifice for the sexual gratification of lecherous men.” This concept is clearly showcased in the play’s final moments when Hettie asks Lavinia about the two-headed calf that supposedly was hidden in a cellar. Lavinia states that it was a lie which she made up. It is clearly author Jensen’s analogy for the Mormon church and its hidden rituals.

Jensen's straightforward writing embraces humor as well as sadness. Each of the five scenes carries us further into an elliptical story of the machinations of each of the women, with comments about the church. Each segment is bridged by a religious or philosophical song.

TITLEWave’s production, under the steady direction of Greg Vovos, gets everything possible out of the script. The characterizations are clearly etched, the underlying concepts revealed.

The strong-willed, often maniacal Lavinia is well-portrayed by Holly Holsinger. At the start it is a little difficult to believe that she is 10-years old, but once the idea sets in, the ideas flow. The character’s strong personality and her obvious lesbian love for the never seen Jane, receive a strong and textured development.

Chris Seibert, as the sensitive, trusting and naive Hettie is believable from the start. She gives the role a child-like presence throughout, even as a mature woman. It is easy to accept that she is a willing participant in her fate.

Lydia Chanenka’s set design, mainly consisting of a gnarled tree from which the massacre is viewed by Lavinia, remains, like Jensen’s view of the Morman church, strong, but misshapen. The backdrop of burning red colors symbolically remains throughout the presentation to remind us of the overlying effect of the massacre.

Capsule judgment: ‘TWO HEADED’ is a vivid play which holds our attention for its hour-and-a-half intermissionless presentation through fine acting and a consistent concept.