Sunday, October 07, 2007

Holy Ghosts

‘HOLY GHOSTS’—acting exceeds script

Romulus Linney, the author of ‘HOLY GHOSTS’ now being produced by Beck Center, holds a Bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College and is the father of Laurie Linney. Linney, spent his childhood in North Carolina and Tennessee. The author of three novels, thirteen plays and twenty-two short stories, he has used his southern experiences as a device for anchoring much of his writing.

‘HOLY GHOST’ centers on Nancy Coleman, a run-away bride. Her husband Coleman comes after her not only because he wants her back, but she has taken some of his family’s heirlooms. Coleman finds her at the rural meeting house of a southern Pentecostal sect. Nancy has not only been accepted into the family of the church, but has declared her interest in becoming the wife of the Reverend Obediah Buckhorn. Rich with atmosphere and the feel of southern rural life, the play probes into the circumstances and stories of the various sect members—culminating in a snake-handling scene in which the cynical Coleman, to his own amazement, is himself converted into a believer.

The play, as the Beck Center’s director states in the program notes, “probes the universal human need to believe.” It also shines the light on how some people test their faith in ways unimaginable to most of us as it examines how, through acceptance and love, people sometimes get what they need. What the attendee will take from the production is parallel to the person’s religious and philosophical beliefs. Some may be repelled by the fanatical faith of the characters. Others will identify with the need to “follow God’s words.”

In spite of Linney’s credentials, the play is generally not well written. Some of the dialogue is forced and unnatural. The transitions are weak. At times it appears that the bridges were written to tie together a series of pre-written monologues, much like the style used to create musical reviews.

In spite of the script problems, the Beck show generally works. Director Matthew Wright has done an excellent job of developing clear characters who understand their underlying emotions. However, a combination of Wright’s blocking, Richard Gould’s scenic design and the theatre space causes for difficulty in hearing some of the characters’ line. Wright often placed individuals so their backs were to a majority of the audience, usually facing the back wall of the set. The sound goes over the top of the low set and bounce off the theatre walls or get lost in the high ceiling. These problems were heightened when the characters shouted. And scream they did. Actors and directors often think that yelling at the top of their lungs is the only way to show strong emotions. It isn’t. Vocal inflection, intensity and pauses are often more effective, and some of this cast should learn that concept.

Nicholas Koesters (Coleman Shedman) developed a character that was both egomaniacal and pathetic. A little less shouting in certain places, more controlled emotional frustration and better diction might have helped polish the characterization.

Laurel Johnson was often unintelligible as Nancy Shedman. When she screamed and faced away from the audience, her words just floated away. Her realization scene at the end of the play was very effectively portrayed.

A. Neil Thackaberry straddled the line between fanatic and astute leader, with skill. Rhoda Rosen was properly school marmish. Curtis Young was effectively clueless to the realities of life as the preacher’s son. Only space restricts my listing each member of the cast as doing a very effective job.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘HOLY GHOSTS’ may not be an easy production for some to sit through due to the preachy religious material and script weaknesses. On the other hand, the quality of the acting is strong enough so that anyone interested in quality performances will be wrapped up in the character developments. Don’t be surprised if you leave the theatre both mentally and physically exhausted.