Advertisements for High rely upon the public’s fascination with Kathleen Turner, who plays Sister Jamie, an alcoholic nun who seeks her own personal redemption in the church. This play, which enjoyed a brief eight-day run on Broadway, is on tour, largely because of Turner’s involvement. However, this work doesn’t truly deliver, despite inspired performances by Turner and her costar, Evan Jonigkeit, who plays the 19 year old hustler-addict, Cody Randall.
While emotional manipulation is precisely why some of us go to the theatre in the first place, it pains when the manipulation is done so obviously
High was written by Matthew Lombardo, who appears to aim for the tension of a thriller psychodrama. Many elements of the story, such as complex character of Sister Jamie, Father Delpapp’s (Tim Altmeyer) reluctance to explain his connection to the junkie who appeared at the treatment center, Cody Randall’s tortured past, and the mysterious death of a 14 year old should, in theory at least, provide rich fodder for such a thriller. Moreover, Lombardo knows of what he writes; his program notes articulately describe his own descent into addiction. However, junkies are a predictable lot, which makes this tediously slow going.
Even worse than the tedium, is the sense of being emotionally manipulated by this piece. While emotional manipulation is precisely why some of us go to the theatre in the first place, it pains when the manipulation is done so obviously, as it is with the back stories of Sister Jamie and Cody Randall, whose previous lives sound like nothing more than an extreme version of a 12 step meeting monologue. Here, the audience manipulation feels as cheap a stunt as Cody Randall’s manipulation of his enabler Father Delpapp.
The better elements of the play have nothing to do with drug addiction. Surprisingly, Turner gives us a vision of what’s best in the Catholic church. A colleague who refers to himself as a recovering Catholic often speaks highly of Catholic notion that every person matters deeply – and laments that this value is undermined by an association with unsavory, deeply conservative political demagogues. Sister Jamison’s references to the duty to find god in yourself and in others provide insight into part of her motivation in treating junkies, and transcend a narrow vision associated with a particular faith. The deep exploration of the power and necessity of forgiveness, and how forgiveness itself redeems is a central axis of this work. However, this approach is not sufficient to redeem the play itself.
High plays the Curran through March 25th.