Thursday, May 17, 2012


How weak is our flesh. How strong is our heart. How devote are we to our beliefs. Alone at night with our darkest thoughts and with the knowledge of our guilt and our shame, which offers the more powerful succor; belief or a flight into chemical solace

These are some of the issues addressed in High, a play currently showing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.  I admit that as we entered the theatre I knew almost nothing about this play or its author Matthew Lombardo. Our main impetus to view this performance was its female lead, one Kathleen Turner.
Kathleen Turner is a movie star. Body Heat, Romancing the Stone, Prizzi's Honor ... a long list of strong performances in good movies. A performer known for her strength, her sensuality and of course for that smokey husky voice. When we had the opportunity to see her in a small three person play of course we jumped at it.
High is a drama with a capitol D. Ms Turner portrays a nun, a recovering alcoholic with a dark and shattering history who works in a drug rehab centre of a church. Sister Jami is a drug counsellor and her newest case is Cody, a gay hustler and heroin addict who may or may not have raped and murdered a young boy during a particularly nasty drug binge. Yes, drama indeed.

Father Michael is the sister's boss and although Cody is not normally the kind of case with whom the church deals, he insists that Jami work with the young man. The reasons behind this insistence become complicated, personal and at times pushes the envelope of credibility.

This indeed is a large D drama, there is conflict within conflict, the plot lets nobody escape unscathed and the issues dealt with are all dark and powerful: Addiction, rape, murder, guilt and guilt and more guilt .. after all, this is the Catholic church we're dealing with.

There were times when it was difficult to feel that some of the story's plot points were not installed for simple shock value. And some of the story revelations are delivered with a fairly heavy hand, you can see them coming 20 minutes before they show up on stage.

The play works best when it examines the cause of addiction rather than its results. Guilt works heavily on all of the characters and its through interaction with one another that the guilt from their past is revealed. Ms Turner addresses the audience in several monologues but these speeches prepare rather than reveal. The revelation comes as each character confronts one another, as it should be.

After seeing and thoroughly enjoying such "big" performances as War Horse it's nice to see a "small" play, three actors, a couple of very simple sets, where the words and the performances become the focus. For me, this is the essence of theatre.

As to the performances: Timothy Altmeyer as Father Michael is very effective. The early part of his performance is nicely balanced as the character uses a combination of humour and discipline to compel Sister Jami to handle this difficult case. The last part of the play forces a character change on Father Michael that seems jarring but this is more a deficit of the story than of performance.

Evan Jonigkelt as Cody is a bit disapointing. His twitchy, sniffly, gesticulating junkie is predictable to the point of stereotype.

But the reason we came to see the play was Kathleen Turner and in that regard we were not disapointed. Profane, humorous, calculated, impassioned ... Turner gives her nun depth and humanity. The husky voice is of course there; the joke is you can't really tell if Kathleen Turner has a cold but I think she really did  but that did not hold in back in a performance that is equally physically and emotionally draining. Her monologues were spellbinding and during a moment where her character has to deny another the emotional support that he needs, a simple turn of the head and raised hands said more about the Sister's emotional fear than any amount of words.

Lurid plot points aside, there is some real satisfaction in High. How does one deal with horrible events in our lives, why do we get high, why do we need to get low before we get high. Sister Jami looks up at the sky and the stars that she saw as a little girl and wonders why she can't touch those lights. Why can't she be high.

I'm not sure if I would reccomend High the play to a lot of people; it is dark and there are no happy endings. Some of it rang incredibly true to me, some of it seemed contrived. Overall I was happy with it. I was extremely happy with Kathleen Turner's performance and would recomend it for that.

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