Sex. Love. God. Truth. People risk everything for them. They are eaten by lions. They are burned at the stake. They die on crosses. And did I mention politics, the arena where such questions do battle?
Baltimore’s Iron Crow Theatre Company tackles all the hot spots in its world premiere production of Rich Espey’s The Revelation of Bobby Pritchard, playing now at the Baltimore Theatre Project through March 28th.
If you want — as one of the characters in the play says — a fair fight, then Revelation is not for you. A place in its heart for religious conservatives this story does not have. But if you want a play that celebrates the liberation of identity based on sexual orientation, then this play’s rich design and texture will strike a solid chord.
Espey’s story is — I want to say simple — but unfortunately it is a little too complex to make the evening as fulfilling as it might have been.
Marta, played warmly by Julie Herber, returns to her small Southern home town with a wife, Cyn, played as a fiery psychologist by Susan Porter. Marta has a terrifying story to tell younger brother Hank, played with simple conviction by Dave LaSalle, about their preacher father.
Forced to flee the small town as a teenager, Marta can no longer tolerate living a lie, or rather lies. Lies about her sexual identity. Lies about her father’s holiness. Lies about her own cover up of a crime.
Imagine if you will, a teenager witnessing the murder of a beloved friend, a murder committed brutally by her father in the middle of a sacred act. That same teenager, with gender issues swarming inside, is then forced to leave home, never to see mother again. Decades later, a mature Marta will confront, not the violent dead father or the loving mother, but the younger brother and his continuing support for his father’s church.
If that story doesn’t sound engaging enough for a 100-minute one-act play, there is also a sub-story about Hank’s son Pos, aka Oren, played sincerely by Sean Kelly. Pos has been sent to the Pritchard Center, which specializes in conversion therapy No, that’s not religious conversion, where Muslims or Jews are converted to Christ, but sexual orientation conversion, where homosexuals are converted to heterosexuals It’s sometimes called reorientation therapy or SOCE (sexual orientation change efforts). To say these practices are controversial would be an understatement.
While on the inside, Pos meets Mary Charles, played as a tough, no nonsense transgender by Heather Peacock. When her mother, a tight lipped Christian woman play sternly by Sarah Lynn Taylor, brings a graduation dress to the center, the rebellious teen will have nothing to do with hiding for convenience’s sake. This transgender wants the world to know who s/he is.
Then, of course, there are the flashback scenes: when Marta was a teen herself (also played by Peacock), she tried to survive in her conservative Christian town during the 1960s. That’s when she met the Bobby Pritchard of the title (played by Kelly as well). Together, they planned a wedding without a conjugal bed: in such a marriage they might hide forever their true sexual selves.
To be sure, Director Steven J. Satta has handled the quick transitions well. Nevertheless, the multiplicity of those transitions — between stories, characters, worlds, time periods, actors, and relationships — though aided somewhat by the costumes of Samantha Bloom, are at times difficult to follow, and almost always impossible to embrace emotionally. They simply end too quickly, moving on to the next story or development.
The small church setting by Mollie Singer, with projections by Travis Levasseur, and lighting by Chris Flint work well as a constant reminder of the all encompassing theocracy that surrounds the characters.
And one will never see a larger bullet slowly cross a set in your life.
In the end, the script’s presentational style left me wanting more emotional authenticity. If the playwright had either written a longer play or focused more narrowly on one of his riveting tales, that authenticity would have had a chance to bloom.
As it is now, we are given an opportunity to engage in a play with fascinating possibilities, but left to imagine for ourselves their intimate implications.
Given the timeliness of this world première and the questions that it raises about identity, both sexually and religiously, that intimate look is demanded.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
The Revelation of Bobby Pritchard plays through March 28, 2015 at Iron Crow Theatre Company performing at the Baltimore Theatre Project-45 Preston Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, email the box office at email@example.com, or purchase them online.