Kathleen Turner in a play about addiction
Kathleen Turner and Evan Jonigkeit
Today has been a very spiritual day.
I started it with a trip to the Playhouse in the Park, a beautiful theater in Eden Park, to see a brand new play that is previewing before it heads to New York. Cincinnati is the second stop as the playwright, Matthew Lombardo, tweaks his script; Hartford was the first. I was lucky enough to be attending on a day where Lombardo and the male leads came out afterward for a Q&A period.
The play, entitled “High,” is the story of a nun (Turner, who was fantastic, of course) who serves the church as a substance abuse counselor. Her newest patient, Cody Randall (played by the mesmerizing Evan Jonigkeit), is her most challenging ever. In fact, she argues with the priest, Father Michael (played with conviction by Michael Berresse) that he shouldn’t even be in their care.
As a counselor, I related to Sister Jamie’s frustration. When people don’t want to change, its next to impossible to help them. As the play progresses and we learn more about the life of Cody Randall and find out more about Father Michael and Sister Jamie, I connected with, got angry at, and ultimately cried for all three of these characters. And did I ever cry.
I have never openly wept in a theater until this year. I’ve always been too afraid someone would see me and think I was weird. But “Toy Story 3,” the ultimate in coming-of-age movies for men who grew up in my era, moved me to tears from almost the beginning of the film. And I didn’t care what anyone thought. The same was true today, as this story touched me deeply. So profoundly that my friend Connie and I are going back again next Friday night.
Needless to say, I loved this work. Despite the explicit language, full-frontal male nudity, graphic drug use, and ultra-adult themes, it was the most spiritual piece of art I’ve seen in some time. It was far more spiritual than many church services I’ve attended. It was a story of redemption. If you’ve read my reviews in the past, you know is my favorite kind of story. But the redemption in this story is not typical and is different than most. It is an ugly story, with unpleasant moments, vile language, and uncomfortable subject matter. So ugly, in fact, that it became beautiful in my eyes, especially with the context of hearing the playwright talk about his own story and how it relates to this production.
I went to church for a concert after the play; quite a switch in venue and in subject matter. But the Truth was the same. As the choir and Paula Stefanovich and the Pfeifers sang songs of hope and healing, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people at the concert had been in the same kinds of situations as the characters in “High.” How many of them found their redemption in the same types of ways and now are living to tell about it, to celebrate it, and hopefully help others find it. The concert was excellent. The music was soaring, the harmonies spot on, and the emotion full.
But if I had to pick the event that touched me most, it was the dark, dismal, and ugly play that talked about the goodness of God in a gritty, earthy way. It was more real for me. I loved it. And I can’t wait to see it again.
Originally published at on September 13, 2010.