THE BUSY WORLD IS HUSHED
Operating out of the basement of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Pacific Theatre, according to its mission statement, “exists to serve Christ in our community by creating excellent theatre with artistic, spiritual, relational and financial integrity.” In fact Pacific Theatre’s Christian mission as what it calls “a non-propagandist professional theatre” has rarely interfered with its artistic integrity. But sometimes the company’s choice of material is more than a little in yer face.
An intelligent and complex play, Keith Bunin’s The Busy World Is Hushed is actually a guest production from one2theatre. And an excellent production it is under Richard Wolfe’s confident direction. But Bunin insists so obsessively on staging theological arguments that they sometimes overwhelm the reality of his characters and the relationships among them.
Gina Chiarelli plays Hannah, a magisterial Episcopal minister who hires a shaky young writer named Brandt (Adam Bergquist) to ghost-write a book for her on a newly discovered manuscript that may be the earliest true gospel. Only-child Brandt is struggling terribly with the news of his father’s brain cancer, which has shaken his faith. Hannah’s prodigal son Thomas (Sebastian Kroon), another only child, has been struggling for all his 26 years with the death of his father, possibly by suicide, before Thomas’ birth, and he has a tense relationship with Hannah whom he accuses of suppressing her real feelings and hiding her life behind her faith. Brandt and Thomas, both gay, strike up a relationship—with Hannah’s encouragement. Complications and many arguments ensue.
The acting is very fine, with a charismatic (not in the theological sense) Kroon taking high honours. Thomas is a fascinating character, a self-possessed, skeptical risk-taker whose inability to escape his dead father’s grasp seems somewhat unrealistic, especially in light of the way Kroon just owns the stage. Having grown up with a single mother who can’t seem to talk in any but religious terms, Thomas can reject Hannah’s Christianity only with constant theological rhetoric. Brandt, who can quote whole psalms verbatim, has a growing love for Thomas, which is inflected on the one side—in the face of his father’s pain—by his growing doubts about God’s love and justice, and on the other by his conversations with Hannah about the implications of that gospel manuscript, which she speculates may finally reveal the truth about the historical Jesus. And she can express her dysfunctional relationship with her son only in terms of her faith.
Do real people really talk like that? All the time? Even a minister? I was genuinely interested in the characters and the way they might work out their various human dilemmas, especially the two attractive young men. Ultimately, though, the play allows us to experience the human only in the key of the divine. I admired the performances and some of the smart scriptural exegeses but after a while I found myself distracted by the theological overkill.