In The Healing, a circle of friends who met at a religious camp 25 years ago reunites to honor the death of one of their own. Before you can roll your eyes, let me add that the situation is set in motion by Samuel D. Hunter, the Obie Award winning playwright behind A Bright New Boise. In both cases, Hunter explores what happens when extreme faith meets life’s curveballs with stunning agility and clarity.
Here he adds an extra thought-provoking layer. All of the main characters and the actors who portray them are disabled. This is both significant and irrelevant. Commissioned by the Theater Breaking Through Barriers, the piece provides a welcome opening for a group of gifted actors who have more limited opportunities. The work was written specifically for this cast and that customization shows in their ease with one another. In the lead role of Sharon, the heart of the group, Shannon DeVido — a comic, improv artist, and frequent Hunter collaborator — conveys a delicate balance of command and doubt. (Regrettably on this occasion her perfectly timed moments of reflection sometimes lead to too quiet a delivery.) Even stronger and more approachable is actor/speaker/filmmaker David Harrell as down to earth Donald. Jamie Petrone and John McGinty are adorable as newly coupled Bonnie and Greg.
Their presence on stage also holds up an important mirror to an underserved audience of partially sighted and deaf as well as those with limited mobility. The energy zooming in both directions is electrifying. Ultimately, though, this is simply a terrific story about friendship, loyalty and getting through the day. While The Healing isn’t quite up to Boise’s level of greatness, Hunter’s set-up is intriguing, every little touch has relevance and the dialogue simply flows forward. As a result, the script could be well executed by any talented troupe, all be it less sincerely and powerfully.
This world-premiere production has been well-mounted at the small Clurman Theatre in Theater Row. UK and US director Stella Powell-Jones brings her delicate touch to even the most uneasy of the play’s beats. Jason Simms’ set design wonderfully captures the watched-too-much-QVC-ness of Zoe’s living room. And I would give Christopher Metzger a separate round of applause for Mary Theresa Archbold’s physically overwhelming outfits for her role as the nearly defeated Laura.
If you like your theater on the natural side, The Healing will strike many graceful notes. Tickets are available through July 16 at http://www.theatrerow.org/clurmannowplaying/.