Saturday, July 2, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Samuel D. Hunter's The Healing at The Harold Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row by Kathy Towson

This review of Samuel D. Hunter's The Healing at The Harold Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row was written by Kathy Towson and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Healing
Written by Samuel D. Hunter
Directed by Stella Powell-Jones
Produced by Theater Breaking Through Barriers
Scenic Design by Jason Simms
Lighting Design by Alejandro Fajardo
Sound Design by Brandon Wolcott
Costume Design by Christopher Metzger
The Harold Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
Reviewed 6/30/16 

The evening began with a very odd practice - no programs until "after" the show (I pointed out I needed mine to do my job), which set a questionable tone for me but, fortunately, the show itself proved to be anything but odd. There was no intermission. The play flowed smoothly and quickly. The set and lighting were warm and inviting with a clever design to accommodate the wheelchairs utilized by two of the characters. The pre-show music had an unusual, new-age feel, setting a very calming and relaxing atmosphere. The costumes gave the audience a good sense of location and season. 

The theme of the show was not an unfamiliar one - a person in a group dies and friends who may have lost touch with one another, get together to mourn their mutual acquaintance. In this case, that gathering takes place in a small town near Idaho Falls where Sharon (Shannon DeVido) and Donald (David Harrell) have travelled to attend their friend Zoe's funeral and have stayed on to clean out her cluttered home. Sharon has been in town "handling all this funeral crap" for the past three days. She has control issues and is very angry, especially since she is having trouble finding an aide to fly home with her. Sharon is a successful entrepreneur but is confined to a wheelchair due to her having a spinal condition. She hasn't seen Donald for many years. Donald is surprised and saddened to learn that Zoe, who seems to have committed suicide, had no family and few friends in town.

I was pleasantly surprised how uniquely, an otherwise familiar plot, was handled - all of the characters (and the actors themselves) had disabilities which, after an initial surprise reaction, became comfortably blended into the story line - which was based in part on these very disabilities. As more of Zoe's friends arrive, we learn that this particular group met as children when they spent summers at a Christian camp. After years of listening to a zealous Christian Scientist woman tell them, "if you pray hard enough, Jesus will heal your broken little bodies," the kids came away brainwashed. The Healing, a new play by MacArthur Foundation genius grant winner Samuel D. Hunter, was written specifically for Theater Breaking Through Barriers, a company of disabled actors. It deals with the harm sometimes done to vulnerable people in the name of religion. Hunter's earlier play - The Whale - also dealt with the dangers of religious mania, but given the age of the Christian camp attendees in The Healing, the false hope appears crueler. Some of the children grow up to embrace their faith and some renounce it but in all circumstances, there are long-term emotional consequences. The characters of Sharon and Zoe represent both ends of that spectrum. Sharon lost her faith but for Zoe, faith was her lifeline, to the point where she risks her very life, relying on her faith in Jesus to heal even the most serious health issues. When her prayers are not answered, she becomes disillusioned and takes her own life in light of her new realizations.

One might expect the mood of the piece would be somber but it was refreshingly handled by playwright Samuel D. Hunter with a great deal of very clever humor, starting with the fact that a shopping channel played throughout the show because no one could find the remote to change it. Little did we know just how important that remote would become when it was symbolically "found" at the end of the show. Additionally, the discussion of "coffin" vs. "casket" between Sharon (Shannon DeVido) and Donald (David Harrell) was perfectly placed dark humor, to set the tone at the top of the show, for a somewhat more lighthearted approach to an otherwise sad gathering.

The dialogue throughout was very natural, relaxed, and realistic, further making the disabilities of the characters (and actors) truly a secondary focus. A relatable example is when Sharon speaks of being single and not being the tragedy the world might imagine - "I can be alone, watch a movie and not feel terrible about being by myself." A good message to any singles in the audience.

I also very much appreciated that the playwright took the bold stand of having Bonnie (Jamie Petrone) try to describe, with sign language, how she sang a song about waterfalls to the deaf Greg (John McGinty) - truly a hilarious moment, appreciated by equally bold laughter from the audience. How clever of Mr. Hunter to put us all at ease about an otherwise, sometimes uncomfortable encounter with disabilities. This is then followed by a very poignant recounting of Bonnie discovering an orphanage she grew up in, giving us an immediate connection to her gentler side and then putting us back into a positive mood when Laura (Mary Theresa Archbold) explains an unfortunate statement she just made with "I guess I shouldn't take Vicodin." It is also a clever device to have the dead Zoe (Pamela Sabaugh) come in and out of the action in flashbacks. Watching her possessions carted away around her, as her faith was carted away before her passing - is flawlessly handled by Stella Powell-Jones' brilliant direction. 

We become very involved with all of the characters through some very personal and heartfelt stories, especially as they re-bond with the recalling of the time they spent being lectured on the power of faith by Joan (Lynn Lipton), the head of the summer camp they all attended as children. Not only do they need closure regarding those experiences but it also appears that Joan needs closure as well. In the play, she comes back to the house to get her own closure with all of those campers - thus the title - The Healing. It is here that the symbolism of the simple remote sends a huge message - Joan sits down on the couch, reaches under the cushion and pulls out the remote - symbolizing her time spent with Zoe - a moment of forgiveness for everyone, especially Sharon, with an appropriate exchange between Joan and Sharon of moving on - a perfectly written ending, arrived at through a well-structured literary journey.

This theater company is true to its name - Theater Breaking Through Barriers. It has certainly done just that with this unique and overall stellar production. This group of actors shows us they are very talented and that their disabilities are totally overshadowed by the magnitude of those talents. I was impressed by this company not only for this production but also because of the fact that they travelled all the way to Croatia to share their gifts. I look forward to following their future journeys.

The Healing is a definite must see! It plays through July 16th at Theatre Row's Clurman Theatre (410 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenues) with performances on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $55.00, available at 212-239-6200 or at For additional information about this show and this theatre company, visit 

No comments:

Post a Comment