Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews
 

Eye of God – Off Broadway Theater Review

 

QUESTIONS OF FAITH

 

picture - Eye of GodTheater Review

by Cindy Pierre

published October 25, 2009

 

Eye of God

played Off Broadway at the Kirk Theater on Theater Row

and closed on October 17

 

“The problem is you ain't been loved proper” says Dorothy (Shorey Walker), a lonely waitress with a mean set of sideburns in Tim Blake Nelson's Eye of God.  The solution, she and all of the other characters who dispense proper love find, is not always in the giving.  Sometimes, especially when that love comes too late, it's in the receiving. 

 

But what happens when a situation or person who incorporates spiritual faith defies this formula?  What can you make of a person who behaves erratically and savagely, even after getting what most people need?  These are some of the questions posed in this gripping tale that looks at faith as not the culprit, but as the accomplice that stands by and does nothing as tragedy unfolds.  Although this hypothesis is complex, arguably unfair, and ultimately unproven, Theatre East treats it with care, warmth, and an uncanny honesty that is seldom employed, but certainly welcome for a subject as sensitive as the belief in God.

 

It's important to note that Eye of God attempts to measure faith, not God himself.  However, the distinction may be blurred by the play's opening sequence.  In it, Rogers (Richard Mawe), the local sheriff in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, identifies himself as a savior of bewildered victims, a need that originates with his own confusion over the Bible's story of Abraham and Isaac.  Nelson treads a path that's rarely traveled by making Rogers sympathize with Isaac, the almost-sacrificed son, instead of the usual sympathizee, the sacrificing father.  In so doing, he questions, if inadvertently, why God would subject Isaac to this peril.  However, the events that follow point to the insufficiency of faith to combat man's nature when, really, it's man that proves himself to be inadequate.

 

That man, an ex-convict named Jack (Judson Jones, also the artistic director), gets more than a lion's share of chances to grant him a new lease on life:  a newly found faith, the support of his church, a new job, a parole officer, Sprague (Benard Cummings), and most importantly, a sweet pen-pal and waitress turned doting wife, Ainsley (Valerie Redd).  Everything is going well until Jack's need to “honor God” becomes oppressive, and his command over his recent blessings rages out of control.

 

While Jack loses control, Theatre East manages almost everything else, including a subplot about Tom (Ehad Berisha), a boy dealing with the suicide of his mom and witnessing a gruesome crime, with impeccable skill.  Tom is not only implanted as the “Isaac” in this story by being a hapless victim to two traumatic events, but Berisha's performance is terror and anguish made manifest. It is the kind of terror and anguish that patrons of this show need to feel in order to fully grasp the power of this drama. 

 

And the power of Eye of God, folks, is multi-dimensional.  First for its compelling material and then for its understated, quiet strength.  It is the kind of strength that's needed to be uncompromising in honesty, opinion and emotion.  Told with intersecting scenes that are haphazard in order, director Lisa Devine creates a warm, grounded atmosphere that is complemented by the earth tones used in Robin Vest's set. 

 

Nelson's dialogue also creates a cozy mood.  He pens phrases, particularly between lovebirds Jack and Ainsley, that don't represent the way people often talk, but should.  They are sweet nothings that most  people will not admit to wanting to hear, but the locked-away desire underneath their hardened surfaces is there. It is from this desire that the cast seems to perform, so truthfully and so bare.  Despite some superfluous characters - Janice, another waitress, Lee, the diner owner and Del, a cashier - Helen Merino, Doug Sheppard and Morgan Baker, respectively, do well with the very little that they are given.

 

Luckily, much is given to the audience.  In spite of an unsatisfying conclusion and a premise that points out the holes in man, not faith, Eye of God affords us a way to ask why when an explanation cannot be distilled from the chaos.  And while it tries to make sense of moral philosophy, it also entertains.  But that's far from all.

 

Continuing in the tradition that brought us the wonderful Harvest with Alchemy Theatre Company two years ago, Judson Jones and Christa Kimlicko Jones have co-founded Theatre East to bridge differences in our community and tackle subjects that are universal.  Across cultures and time, nothing is more universal than a discussion of a higher power, or lack thereof.  Eye of God confronts that issue and urges you to do the same, thereby doing away with the isolation that's typically associated with embarking on such a journey.

 

cindypierre @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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