photo by Carol Rosegg
Written by Samuel D. Hunter
Directed by Stella Powell-Jones
In a premise reminiscent of The Big Chill, THE HEALING follows the a group of friends who reunite to mourn the untimely death of one of their pack. Laura (Mary Theresa Archibold), Sharon (Shannon Devido), and Donald (David Harrell), Bonnie (Jamie Petrone) now live in different parts of the country and occupy disparate professions. But they have a few things in common; they are each have a disability of one kind or another, and they all went to the same Christian camp when they were kids. As the mourners gather in the tchotchke-laden house of the deceased (designed with meticulous quirkiness by Jason Simms), the inevitable questions arise. What would cause Zoe, to want to take her own life? What does this mean for the survivors?
Through flashbacks we learn that Sharon tried to help Zoe (Pamela Sabaugh) with her physical and mental afflictions, but had little success. Zoe was a dedicated Christian Scientist who insisted on trying to pray the blues away rather than seek treatment. This is a big button pusher for Sharon, who still harbors resentments towards Joan (Lynne Lipton), the director of the camp they all attended all those years ago. Also a believer in faith healing, Joan tried to brainwash the kids into believing that their condition was abnormal and ugly, and that divine intervention could make it all go away.
It’s an awful message to force feed children. Yet the question of whether Joan’s behavior truly scarred the kid’s psyches remains unresolved. Most of them, as grownups, seem to be resilient, independent people who lead reasonably fulfilling lives. The ones, like Zoe, that succumb to melancholia, can hardly point to summer camp as the sole source of their pain. Bonnie’s boyfriend Greg (John McGinty), the one outsider in the group, is rightly puzzled by the fact the kids kept coming back to the camp year after year, that their parents never sought to intervene. He receives little in the way of clarification.
Thus Joan begins to feel like a red herring. The real question is whether there’s enough common ground for the former campers to be part of each other’s adult lives. They also seem to be avoiding the natural impulse to reassess their own lives after the sudden death of someone their own age. Playwright Samuel D. Hunter does an admiral job of populating his world with likable, true-to-life characters, but he’d get more present-tense energy out of them if he’d the let them the blame game aside and try to harder to reach each other. Similarly, director Stella Powell-Jones keeps the actors emotionally grounded and keyed into one another, but could stand to prune some of the awkward pauses and move the action forward with greater surety.
Despite its stagnant beats, though, THE HEALING does spark an intriguing debate as to whether religion helps or hurts those in need, and whether “cold stark atheism” is the only alternative to blind faith. The show also provides an introduction to the Theater Breaking Through Barriers ensemble, many of whom are talented writers and directors in their own right. For more commentary, humor and performances by performing artists with disabilities, click on the links below.
THE HEALING continues through July 16, 2016 at the Clurman Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036. Tickets (212) 239-6200.