theatre preview

Created and performed by Jeff Berryman
Pacific Theatre
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 second.

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.

last updated: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 8:14 PM
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