Biblical scholars don't spend a lot of time on the prospect, but they do say there's no hard evidence that Jesus Christ has ever stopped in at The Brass Rail, or that indeed he ever will. Too bad, because the iconic Hillcrest gay bar reportedly sports a serious come-as-you-are attitude, and Jesus is supposed to be a serious come-as-you-are kinda dude. If he's passed it over, he may have blown a chance to hook up with some seriously interesting like-minded folks, and that's on him.
Maybe he's holding out for the Second Coming, although by now he's so goddamn late that the upshot of his visit is anybody's guess. That's on him, too.
But maybe it's like Hannah says in The Busy World is Hushed, a West Coast premiere and Diversionary Theatre's very good look at religious faith, gay love and a mother's best hopes for her wayward son. God and his boy pretty much keep their own hours, and our place in those hours (bar-hopping included) is created at their discretion. Religious faith, Keith Bunin's play declares, is thus a trap in many ways. It exploits our finite natures and our finite expectations, which are often the source of our greatest disappointments.
Bible scholar Hannah (Jerusha Matsen Neal, a Santee minister) is about to discover as much. Her worldly-wise, lusty son Tom (Aaron Marcotte) has taken up with Brandt (Barron Henzel), a gentle writer hired to help Hannah with her latest book. The men's involvement is the flash point for Hannah's epiphany about her faith-eventually, it had become a crutch against the sadness of her widowhood and the condition under which she harbored her hopes that the gadabout Tom would settle down. There's a chasm between mother and son now, replete with Tom's barbs about religion and free agency. 'If God wanted me to be different,' he bellows, 'I don't know why he didn't make me that way.'
It all works out in the wash, but not before director Dan Kirsch indulges Bunin with some excellent casting to physical type. These three are clearly just plain folk in appearance; as such, they're also the most interesting and appropriate to face Bunin's tough questions about man's place in the great scheme. And let's not forget that Hannah's a Bible scholar-she's been at this a while, and Neal nicely lines Hannah's sincerity with the roteness you'd expect from someone so inured to Christian doctrine.The Busy World is Hushed vaguely presumes that religiosity doesn't exist in gay life, because Bunin underwrites the potential for religion as the basis for the couple's conflict; he also fails to outline his reasons for painting the men as gay in the first place. But Kirsch gives us lots of cadenced, thrifty, deliberative subtext on which the playwright bases the characters' rich understories-and the muted music bed and other tech values don't exactly constitute a mortal sin. Nice job.
This review is based on the opening-night performance of Oct. 6. The Busy World is Hushed runs through Oct. 28 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights. $10-$33. 619-220-0097.
Maybe it's like some performing-arts pundits have been saying the last million years: Maybe the theater of cruelty has been put out of business amid the wholesale horrors that color real life today. If that's true, then there's all the more reason for Sledgehammer Theatre to ramp up its season-opening Seven Crimes, a three-play program billed as a Halloween offering and supposedly inspired by the Grand Guignol shows of late 19th-century Paris.
'Grand Guignol,' French for 'big puppet show,' evolved from a genre of social commentary to a cult-favorite phenomenon featuring wholesale torture, mayhem and unaccountability among the perps. Walter Ritter is impressive amid his sickly appearance here, and Mei-ling Downey can hire on as my dominatrix any night of the week. But director Scott Feldsher is behind three plays that drone on unto their climaxes and feature nowhere near the guts and blood and gore you'd expect at a 'big puppet show,' let alone require.
Seven Crimes runs through Nov. 4 at Tenth Avenue Theatre, 930 10th Ave., Downtown. $10-$25. 619-544-1484.