Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 31, 2010


TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
through August 22, 2010
by Jarice Hanson

From the moment the lights come up on Kathleen Turner, movie star, against a backdrop of celestial heavens, it’s obvious that the world premiere of Matthew Lombard’s "High" is going to be loaded with symbolism. Turner plays a street-smart, recovering alcoholic, foul mouthed nun, and though the role is perfect for her voice and gravitas, the character smacks of Hollywood cliche. Turner’s presence is impressive, but her performance is somewhat halting and uneven, as is the script.

Still, there is much to like about the show; stark black and white sets are juxtaposed against “grey” areas of morality and contemporary society. Director Rob Ruggiero keeps his actors moving at a pulsing speed, and each of the characters has moments of truth and honesty, though the play’s heart sometimes skips a beat. Only through faith can the characters find the “high” that provides the serenity they need—but will they find it through faith, redemption, or recovery? It is unfortunate that the author tries so hard to be clever; he juxtaposes some lovely scenes with the hackneyed jargon of Catholic culture. In a play that deals with homosexuality, drugs, abuse, prostitution and child abuse, do we really need a “penguin joke” to show that nuns should know the difference between black and white?

Michael Berresse portrays Father Michael, who challenges Turner’s character to reform young Cody (Evan Jonigkeit), a homosexual meth addict. Jonigkeit’s performance is brave, but his inexperience shows. Still, he and Turner share the most touching scene in the play when she attempts to teach him how to say the rosary.

To be fair to the actors, it seemed that the play was still being rewritten. If the author, director, and actors can overcome the weaknesses and find the right interpretation, the play and this cast have promise.