‘The View From The Tunnel’ questions why the good suffer
There’s a scene in The View From the Tunnel, directed by Simone Walker, and written by DMV-area playwright Elaine Hutchinson, that reminded me of that scene in the Bible where Job’s friends tried to console, advise and admonish him over his trials and misfortunes. The difference was that in this scene, in lieu of friends, there were four sons, and in lieu of Job, there was one Anna Forster, a fiercely self-reliant widow of a reverend, being confronted by her offspring to face the fearful reality of a life-taking illness. It’s a scene that raised many vexing questions.
“Why do good people suffer so many trials and tribulations?” In the early 80s, there was a book When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner, that touched on that question. The Book of Job in the Bible attempted to answer that question as well, yet there’s never been a good answer.
The ancient Stoics practiced something called ‘The Meditation of Evils,’ that is, imagining the worst that could happen in life and preparing for it; they girded themselves against the worst case scenario. But even this is cold comfort. No one likes to dance with the evils of this world, and sometimes personal ordeals can feel like tunnels with no light anywhere in sight.
Cancer and family discord are the tunnels that run through The View From The Tunnel. The central character, Anna Forster (Diane Powell) faced the tunnel of breast cancer, and as she did, the following questions came to mind: What do you do when disaster strikes? Is being good sufficient? Do we go deeper into or find a religion to believe in? Is prayer the answer? Anna spends a lot of time in the play doing the latter, and dodging the advice of family and friends. She implores to the Almighty: “Why have you deserted me?”
The aforementioned sons, recently widowed Sam (the outstanding David Graham), temperamental personal trainer Jeremiah (Sebastian Leighton), pious preacher Joshua (Alvin Rodney) and insufferable David (Jumaane Green), had their own tunnels to dig through. The overweight, unemployed Sam, who was suffering from the loss of his wife, Alice, from breast cancer a year earlier, buried his sorrows in “Burgerland Burgers: Home of the Five-Inch Burgers” and lusted after good church girl, Sandra (Magda Erase). Sam, who lived with Anna, was barely on speaking terms with officious, condescending psychologist David, who struggled with marital problems, and later in the play, with the disdain of his brothers for doing something many would deem unforgivable.
But the play rested, ultimately on Anna, who after being diagnosed with breast cancer, wanted to face her illness without human intervention—just her and the Lord. It was her friend Selena, played by the commanding, in-your-face Star Bryant, who encouraged Anna to let those close to her know, the better to increase the number of her prayer warriors. It was Selena who told Anna that even after chemo, she could be “bald, bold, and beautiful!”
It was touching to see the depth of love that Anna’s grandchildren (and David’s children) Trina (Alexis Blackmon) and Jonathan (the naturally superb Darren Alford) had for her when she finally revealed her condition to them.
As Anna weighed treatment options, surgery or no, chemo or no, she got all kinds of advice, including guidance from uber spiritual health nut Lonnie (the memorable Dennis Jones), of Revelation Health Ministry, who exhorted her to eat perfectly healthy (no meat, no dairy) to affect healing. Jones played Lonnie with an overbearing, pulpit-splitting voice that made him stand out.
At times, the show got technical, with talk of the stages and grades of cancer—Anna had Stage 2, Grade 3—by her medical team, Dr. Mackey (Diane Washington), Doctor Sandis (Edward Johnson), and Doctor James (Regina Hockaday).
I loved the fake TV commercials designed by Tobari Fingal, Sound Effects\Music, and voiced by LeCount Holmes and Nadia Fingal. I loved how Anna’s diagnosis scenes were played back via audio, with Diane Powell sitting on her couch, a kind of flashback scene. Technical Director Fitzroy Peart made efficient use of lighting effects throughout the play. Simone Walker’s directing debut should put her at the helm of many more shows in the future. It’s worth noting again the talents of Graham, Powell, Bryant, and Alford; they gave some of the strongest performances I’ve seen this year.
The play is well worth a second viewing, and Hutchinson, a breast cancer survivor, is open to staging the play in the future in local churches (part of the proceeds go to the American Cancer Society). Whatever your religious beliefs, The View From the Tunnel is a play you can learn from. It will make you scrutinize your family ties, double-check your loyalties and reexamine your most cherished beliefs.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
The View From the Tunnel played for one night only May 14, 2016 at Divine Revelation and Educational Services performing at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center Kogod Theatre – 3800 University Boulevard, in College Park, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301)405-2787, or purchase them online. To bring the show to your church call (301) 523 -0120.