Off Broadway Review: Samuel D. Hunter’s ‘The Healing’

The Healing review
Carol Rosegg

“The Healing,” the new play by MacArthur Foundation genius grant winner Samuel D. Hunter, was written specifically for Theater Breaking Through Barriers, a company of disabled actors who really lucked out with this smart and sensitive piece about the harm done to vulnerable people in the name of religion. The playwright dealt with the same theme — the dangers of religious mania — in “The Whale,” but the cruelty seems more heartless when the victims are so young.

Shannon DeVido and David Harrell give impressive performances as Sharon and Donald, mourners who have traveled to a small town near Idaho Falls to attend their friend Zoe’s funeral and stayed behind to clean out her cluttered home. (Shout-out to props designer Charles Bowden for the hoarders’ heaven of Disney character figurines, porcelain angels, ceramic frogs and all the unopened packages containing more of the same.)

Related

Playwright Samuel D. Hunter Among MacArthur Foundation Grant Recipients

Sharon and Donald, who haven’t seen one another for some time, are making desultory conversation while watching the Shopping Channel, not from any acquisitive urge but because they’ve lost the remote. The aimless dialogue Hunter has written is pitch-perfect for this languid moment of weary exhaustion.

Donald idly wonders about the unknown woman who wore a red pantsuit to the services. “Who wears a red pantsuit to a funeral ?” he wants to know. Sharon, who’s been handling “all this funeral crap” for the past three days, and paying for it, too, presses an unimportant point about the difference between a casket and a coffin.

The matter of the conversation is meaningless, even amusing. But the interplay between DeVido and Harrell captures the tone of those dead spaces when people have nothing to say to one another, but don’t want to be alone. And whenever Hunter allows his characters to reveal something of themselves, the actors make these shifts with smooth subtlety.

One thing we learn is that Donald is the sensitive one, surprised and saddened to learn that Zoe, who seems to have committed suicide, had no family and few friends in town. It’s also clear that Sharon, a successful entrepreneur with control issues, is seething with suppressed rage. A wheelchair user with a spinal condition, she’s both furious and humiliated when she has trouble finding an aide to fly home with her.

But her anger goes deeper than that, and when other friends arrive at Zoe’s place and pick up the conversation, it becomes clear what’s holding them together. Each of them is disabled in one way or another, and as children they spent summers at a Christian camp. After years of listening to the zealous Christian Scientist woman who ran the camp “telling all of us that if we prayed hard enough, Jesus would heal our broken little bodies,” the poor kids came away brainwashed.

There’s more to the plot — including some heart-to-heart scenes between the troubled Sharon and Zoe’s ghost. And although he tends to dry up when switching from two-character scenes to “crowd” scenes of three or more, Hunter keeps us involved in the confessional material. Unfortunately, the storytelling drags under Stella Powell-Jones’ plodding direction — although to be fair, the stage is a bit small to handle two wheelchairs, and that full-sized couch planted dead-center doesn’t help the stage traffic.

Off Broadway Review: Samuel D. Hunter's 'The Healing'

Clurman Theater; 99 seats; $55 top. Opened June 22, 2016. Reviewed June 17. Running time: ONE HOUR, 30 MIN.

Production

A production by Theater Breaking Through Barriers of a play in one act by Samuel D. Hunter.

Creative

Directed by Stella Powell-Jones. Set, Jason Simms; costumes, Christopher Metzger; lighting, Alejandro Fajardo; sound, Brandon Wolcott; props, Charles Bowden; dramaturg, John M. Baker; production stage manager, Anne Huston.

Cast

Mary Theresa Archbold, Shannon DeVido, David Harrell, Lynne Lipton, John McGinty, Jamie Petrone, Pamela Sabaugh.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 2

Leave a Reply

2 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. This is obviously a play, therefore made up, but telling anyone (disabled or otherwise) that “if you pray hard enough, Jesus will heal your broken body” would be labeled as malpractice in Christian Science. The church’s teachings are based on the idea that man is spiritual intact and whole without needing to do anything. Christian Scientists do not view Jesus as a “fixer.” Perhaps Mr. Hunter simply does not understand Christian Science, or he is confusing it with some other denomination.

    And I’ve never heard of a camp for disabled Christian Science kids. Can’t find any using Google. Again. Does Mr. Hunter know anything about this religion that he is setting up as the cause of all these disabled people’s woes, including a suicide?

    This play, with its noted writer and notable cast, has an underlying bias I see often in TV shows that portray Christian Science as something weird and dangerous.

    Homosexuals were long portrayed that way. Muslims, too. And with Mr. Hunter’s play, Christian Scientists.

  2. Mbe says:

    I’m an ex Christian scientist… Not a fan of them at all, and they certainly do hurt children and adults, but the theology described here does not sound like Christian Science at all, quite the opposite of many of their beliefs actually.

More Legit News from Variety

Loading