Faith, Hope &, Charity
Produced by PURE Theatre
Nov. 19-22, 25-26, 28-29, 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 23, 2 p.m.; "Bring-Your-Own-Baby" on Nov. 23 and 28; pay-what-you-can on Nov. 12 and 25
Circular Congregational Church, Lance Hall
150 Meeting St.
When a play succeeds, it's like watching an accomplished rock climber take on a risky cliff face. All that daring, untethered grace, nimble grasping, and then moving on — it all looks like a rhythmic, natural progression.
It's only when we recognize that one slip could bring down disaster that this remarkable notion sinks in. This is how a merciless thing is made beautiful. And there is, in Faith, Hope & Charity, very little mercy.
Billing itself as a tragic comedy, Ödön von Horváth's 1933 play takes a slice of Depression-era hardship and draws out every last bit of genuine pathos.
This could have been a recipe for cringe-inducing melodrama, but PURE Theatre easily cheats that fate.
It achieves instead an ironic, bittersweet resonance with today's nerve-wracking headlines, a testament to May Adrales' steady-handed direction and the cast's unflagging sense of balance.
The play requires this balance, since much of it has a kaleidoscopic feel.
Elizabeth (Sharon Graci) is the lens through which we glimpse other lives elbowed out of hope by economic catastrophe. Like many of the Dickensian characters we meet in Faith, Elizabeth's declining prospects and increasingly flexible principles lead her to invidious choices. As the play opens, she heads to the city's Anatomical Institute with the idea of pre-selling her body to science.
The comical and the horrific entwine, as the Head Undertaker (Paul Whitty), and then the Undertaker (R.W. Smith), try to talk sense into her. We see how far the desperate will go just to scrape by and what lengths others will go to thwart them. But there's hope for Elizabeth, who insists that no matter how badly things have gone, "I never let that get me down." She sounds like a survivor, and for now, we believe her.
The other characters are not so sure. The Judge's Wife (Cristy Landis) and Miss Prentice (Amanda Franklin Johnson) have her arrested for fraud — the result of an accidental misstep on Elizabeth's part, but one that brings a 14-day jail term.
This criminal stain threatens Elizabeth's blossoming chance at happiness with her policeman beau, Alfred Barksdale (Rodney Lee Rogers). Keeping her secret from him will be the undoing of more than just their relationship. At the last, a regular Joe (Josh Wilhoit) steps in, hoping to save the day.
Faith never flags or wanders. There's very clever staging here, too. In one sequence, the characters race across the stage ever more frantically between Windows of Opportunity that shutter almost as quickly as they open. In moments like this one, Faith yields a creepy, spectral chill up the spine — the feeling that takes hold of us when we cross paths with our own possible future.
PURE's Faith is a treasure. Some plays cheerfully release their hold on you at curtain. Others aren't so easy to shake off. They shadow you on the walk back to your car and linger long after the evening ends.
Such plays, like PURE's Faith, Hope & Charity, are worth seeing again.