Created and performed
by Jeff Berryman
September 30–October 9
From where I live and breathe—liberal left, secular humanist
Canada—fundamentalist Christianity Texas-style looks like
some monstrous aberration from the human default position. It’s
the apocalyptic, self-serving, hypocritical religion of the Bushites
and the extreme endpoint of the tragic trajectory taken by my once
home and native land of the USA. Pacific Theatre’s Leaving
Ruin, a one-man show written and performed by Seattle’s Jeff
Berryman, presents that world from the other side—or rather,
an other side—taking us inside the small-town South in which
Christian fundamentalism permeates every aspect of speech and behaviour,
where it is the hegemonic norm rather than a freaky radical fringe.
It’s the story of Cyrus Manning, pastor of the First Church
of Ruin, Texas, a man too controversial, too “soft on issues,” perhaps
too human for his congregation, a man threatened by the loss of
his job and his faith.
I found this show, by turns, compelling and disquieting. On the
compelling side is the exotica factor, the anthropological fascination
of viewing a distant tribesman enacting the peculiar rites of an
alien culture. As well, Berryman is an extremely accomplished actor.
He has the booming, resonant voice, the body language and cadences
of a TV evangelist without a hint of caricature, and he brings
a beautifully textured naturalism to his presentation of Cyrus.
The man can write, too. “Her beauty sneaks up on me still,” Cyrus
says, admiring his wife after 20 years of marriage. And despite
the apparent silence of God and his imminent job loss, “blessings
rain on me like monsoons.” Berryman quietly, effectively
throws that line away.
What’s disquieting about the show are its unexamined assumptions.
The whole premise is that Cyrus is a special guy, unorthodox, quick-tempered,
but also super-sensitive and of course deeply introspective. Why,
o Lord, why? Why am I like this ? Why don’t they understand
me? Why don’t you listen? But what really are the issues
here on which, according to the script, his congregation thinks
he’s “too soft”? Gay marriage? abortion? the
war in Iraq? We’re told that he’s considered suspect
because he quotes Shakespeare, that he asks too many questions
and doesn’t provide enough answers, that they argue about
minor points of biblical interpretation “while love goes
ungiven.” But what does that mean? Is he asking for more
money for welfare? Health insurance? An end to the death penalty
in the state that executes more men than any other? Highly unlikely,
but who knows? For Cyrus the key issue is his own faith, and the
fact that his job loss threatens his position as patriarch in his
home. He fears he’s letting down his wife because he’s
supposed to support her. That notion is never questioned for a
Despite these misgivings and a redundant second act, I’d
recommend this play to anyone wanting some insight into the mindset
and ideology likely to be running the “free world’ for
at least another four years, leading us all, God save us, down
the road to Ruin.