Thursday, April 21, 2011



HIGH, a new play by Matthew Lombardo, with Kathleen Turner (as a troubled Nun and social worker), supported by Evan Jonigkeit (as a drug Addict) and Steven Kulken (as a Priest), is one of the most anticipated new arrivals:


The play is worth seeing for Kathleen Turner's performance itself. She is a powerhouse who can command the attention of a full Broadway house alone on the stage.

"HIGH" can mean:

High on drugs
High on alcohol
Spiritually high
Physically high
Psychically high -- as in self-aware and self-satisfied
Spiritually high from being physically high
Socially or politically above others
A play, on Broadway, about all these things and more

The play tries to use all of these meanings and, perhaps, even a few more that I haven't articulated.

HIGH is the story of a troubled Addict who is brought for treatment to a troubled Nun, by a Priest who is too much involved and trying not to be.

With only three characters, the first issue confronting the production is how to fill a Broadway stage. The solution is to fill the space surrounding the stage with stars (think "high"). The "sets" are defined by large, semi-abstract walls that define the rooms the characters inhabit.

This abstract visual design works very well with Turner's character's persona. She is telling and living her story -- her past and her present -- in this space.

While Turner's character is very powerful, the priest inhabits a very modest, realistic world. He does little that is spiritual, except to use spiritual notions to prod the Nun into doing his bidding: namely to treat and continue to treat the Addict.

The Addict inhabits two worlds: the world of addiction, which Evan Jonigkeit plays brilliantly, and the world of the patient.

The play is very well written. In the beginning the jokes are dead-on, and Turner's delivery is perfect. However, any play with this structure has a fundamental challenge: why does the Addict stay in this space to be treated the way the Nun wants to treat him? The play tries to give some answers -- eg. if he doesn't stay for treatment he will go to jail -- but I don't really believe that logical reasons are strong enough dramatically to contain this troubled Addict even for a moment or two in a scene. I did not believe the treatment sessions -- the dialogue and action between the Nun and the Patient. The Addict/Patient seemed to be in the room with the Nun only so that the Nun could say her clever things. (Indeed, these sequences suggest a conception of the play as taking place in the dream-world of the Nun.)

The careful crafting of the script also renders it somewhat predictable, and leads the playwright to tie up almost all the strands of the play at the end -- not necessarily in a happy-ending way, but in a complete all-the-stories way. The play has several opportunities to stop, near the end, which would leave some of the story threads unresolved. That would create a very interesting, and very unsatisfying ending. Carrying each thread to its end is less interesting, but more satisfying -- as befits a Broadway production.

In the course of dealing with a Nun whose back-story intersects with the story of the play, with a Priest who has his own agenda, and an Addict whose agenda is very confused, the play raises many interesting issues about responsibility and choices, though it does not have profound insights into resolving those issues.

It is not an instant classic, an emotionally shattering, intellectually ground-breaking evening of theater, but it never flags for energy, it is both entertaining and stimulating, it is quite tough, and it builds to a powerful and honest conclusion.


QPORIT HOME -- LOVE'S FINE WIT -- Shakespeare's sonnets selected and rearranged to dramatize the story of an intense love triangle, with Elizabethan music. One night only: April 23 6:00 at the Cornelia Street Cafe - 29 Cornelia Street NY 212 989-9319.

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