×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Holy Ghosts

Romulus Linney's brilliant comedic drama of Southern Pentecostal snake handlers is well beyond the grasp of director Bruce Fleming and his ensemble cast at the William Alderson Studio Theatre. Despite fine performances by Brandi Hensley and Chip Bent, the production never finds the richness and complexity of tone required for Linney's script.

With:
Cast: Brandi Hensley (Nancy Shedman), Nicolas Kane Landry (Coleman Shedman), William Alderson (Rogers Canfield), Ray Daly (Obediah Buckhorn Jr.), Andrew Bowles (Virgil Tides), Jon Ingrassia (Howard Rudd), Raffe Nazar (Orin Hart), Jules Sorensen (Lorena Cosburg), Lily Means-Gale (Mrs. Wall), Katharyn Grant (Muriel Boggs), Michael Tolfo (Billy Boggs), Jack Kissell (Rev. Obediah Buckhorn Sr.), Chip Bent (Carl Specter), Janet Chamberlain (Bonnie Bridge), Chuck Flynn (Cancer Man).

Romulus Linney’s brilliant comedic drama of Southern Pentecostal snake handlers is well beyond the grasp of director Bruce Fleming and his ensemble cast at the William Alderson Studio Theatre. Despite fine performances by Brandi Hensley and Chip Bent, the production never finds the richness and complexity of tone required for Linney’s script.

The play’s fireworks begin early as Coleman Shedman (Nicolas Kane Landry) arrives at the one-room church of a rural Pentecostal religious sect to reclaim his wife Nancy (Hensley), who has left him with plans to marry the leader of the sect, Rev. Obediah Buckhorn Sr. (Jack Kissell). Just in case, Shedman has brought along his lawyer, Rogers Canfield (William Alderson), to arrange for an equitable divorce settlement.

The irate Shedman discovers not only that his wife is under the spell of the charismatic preacher, but that she is sur-rounded by a colorful congregation of characters straight out of a Southern Gothic.

Cast includes a barely reformed, middle-aged Sunday School slut (Janet Chamberlain), a couple of rednecks with homo-sexual urges (Andrew Bowles, Jon Ingrassia), a wayward housewife (Jules Sorensen), a man with terminal cancer (Chuck Flynn), an elderly piano player (Lily Means-Gale), a husband and wife (Michael Tolfo, Katharyn Grant) dealing unsuccessfully with the birth of a new baby, the dimwitted son of the preacher (Ray Daly) and a young man (Bent) who was catapulted into mental illness by the death of his pet dog.

Each of these offbeat characters has come under the sway of the fire-and-brimstone faith preached by Buckhorn, which includes the ultimate test of faith — handling deadly serpents while singing hymns, testifying in tongues and writhing about on the floor.

The brilliance of Linney’s script lies not only in the vivid-ness of the characters he creates, but also in the constant shifting of dramatic and comic tones, as well as his deft thematic probes into the universal appeal of faith.

The problem with Linney’s material, as with much sophisticated, groundbreaking work, is that it is often difficult to pro-duce, requiring a very skilled directorial touch and gifted actors of consistently strong abilities. In this produc-tion, neither are present.

Director Fleming is unable to track the shifts in tone or to guide the performances into a cohesive whole. And the performers, while generally talented, have neither the experience nor the direction to portray these characters with the fullness that the playwright intended. The result is an often awkward lurching about, search-ing for the proper tone at each moment.

There are, however, a couple of fine performances. Hensley is winning as the desperate wife searching for some equilibrium on the shifting sands of her life. And Bent is marvelous as the deranged, pathetic boy/man who has lost his beloved pet. The production values are almost too simple for the piece, and the small playing area severely cramps both the performances and the story itself. Unfortunately, this production offers only a glimpse of what Lin-ney’s sublime play has to offer.

Popular on Variety

Holy Ghosts

William Alderson Studio Theatre; 36 seats; $12

Production: The William Alderson Studio Theatre presents a play in two acts by Romulus Linney. Directed by Bruce Fleming.

Creative: Set and lighting, Fleming. Opened Nov. 22, 1997; reviewed Nov. 30; runs through Dec. 20. Running time: 2 hours.

Cast: Cast: Brandi Hensley (Nancy Shedman), Nicolas Kane Landry (Coleman Shedman), William Alderson (Rogers Canfield), Ray Daly (Obediah Buckhorn Jr.), Andrew Bowles (Virgil Tides), Jon Ingrassia (Howard Rudd), Raffe Nazar (Orin Hart), Jules Sorensen (Lorena Cosburg), Lily Means-Gale (Mrs. Wall), Katharyn Grant (Muriel Boggs), Michael Tolfo (Billy Boggs), Jack Kissell (Rev. Obediah Buckhorn Sr.), Chip Bent (Carl Specter), Janet Chamberlain (Bonnie Bridge), Chuck Flynn (Cancer Man).

More Legit

  • Broadway-Breakfast-Split

    Variety to Celebrate Second Business of Broadway Breakfast With Thomas Schumacher, Diane Paulus and Diablo Cody

    Variety has announced the lineup for its second annual Business of Broadway breakfast presented by City National Bank. Joining the breakfast on Oct. 7 is the president and producer of Disney Theatrical Productions Thomas Schumacher, who will take part in the event’s keynote conversation. In his position, Thomas oversees the company’s worldwide stage productions, which [...]

  • Sam Rockwell and Laurence Fishburne

    Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne Starring in Broadway Revival of 'American Buffalo'

    Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell will star in an upcoming Broadway revival of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo.” The show marks Rockwell’s first appearance on the Great White Way since his 2014 performance in the revival of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love.” The five-year absence saw him pick up an Oscar for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, [...]

  • Secret Derren Brown review

    Broadway Review: 'Derren Brown: Secret'

    Audiences love to be fooled, whether it’s with clever plotting with a twist, the arrival of an unexpected character or even a charming flimflam man with a British accent. The latter is Derren Brown, and he’s entertaining audiences for a limited run at the Cort Theatre, where he is playing head-scratching mind games and other [...]

  • Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica ParkerNew York

    Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker to Reunite on Broadway for 'Plaza Suite'

    Real-life couple Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker are hitting the Broadway stage again for a reboot of the late Neil Simon’s 1968 play “Plaza Suite.” The staging will mark the Broadway directorial debut of Tony award-winner John Benjamin Hickey. Set in New York City’s Plaza Hotel in Suite 719, “Plaza Suite” is comprised of [...]

  • Derren Brown

    Listen: Derren Brown Spills His Broadway 'Secret'

    Derren Brown has spent a lot of his career performing magic shows on theater stages — but he’ll be the first to tell you that magic usually doesn’t make for great theater. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “If you’re a magician of any sort, you can make stuff happen with a click of your [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content