Our fantastic first review for Norway at the Phoenix Theatre!
www.phoenixtheatre.org for tickets/info
Jan 7, 2011 |
Written by Jay Harvey
'Norway'» When: 8 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Sunday, and 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 30.
» Where: Phoenix Theatre, 749 N. Park Ave.
» Tickets: $15 Thursdays, $25 Fridays-Sundays; call (317) 635-7529.
» Bottom line: Searing play about sexual identity and repression squarely confronts religious bias.
Everybody likes a good whodunit, but the scary mystery in Samuel Hunter's "Norway" points to the loftiest culprit. Uneasiness in flawed human beings with what they take to be "God's plan" for them becomes convulsive in the wrenching drama that opened Thursday night at the Phoenix Theatre.
The responsibility of accepting loved ones for who they are -- so easy to shrug off or swerve around -- gets extended scrutiny in a three-character play that gives no quarter to any religious doctrine that condemns homosexuality.
In one of his more obviously signaled parallels, Hunter suggests that pious resistance to "different" kinds of sexual identity may eventually seem as dated as pious defenses of slavery. The way through to that point will leave considerable destruction in its wake, he warns. "Norway" picks through the debris with a shrewd eye in the course of 100 agonizing minutes without intermission.
Dan Scarbrough plays Mark, a tightly wound fundamentalist minister belatedly caught up in finding out everything he can about his son, Andy (Matthew Goodrich), whose suicide by exposure in a wintry Walmart parking lot in Lewiston, Idaho, has both a nice banality to it and symbolic significance.
Like many eventual suicides, Andy has a schematic view of his life, in his case nurtured by old-time religion, and neatly devises a scenario that will make his demise seem logical. Part of the scenario is to stalk his gay boyhood friend, Brent (Scot Greenwell), a minor classical pianist pessimistic about his career choice, as he tours college towns in the Midwest and Northwest. Though Brent's view of bringing a fresh interpretive outlook to the piano repertoire is sophomoric, it may be the best way to keep his mental balance in a bigoted world.
The play keeps looking backward, but with a sense of violently surging forward motion that's oddly satisfying, despite our temptation to weep with the characters. Hunter is fond of teasing the audience, which learns just enough while being bludgeoned emotionally that no one is likely to feel one step ahead of the playwright.
Guest director Gordon McCall manages skillfully a turbulent dramatic motion that could easily have seemed cluttered. The three actors invest their roles with unstinting truth and passion about the characters' elusive or threatened identities.
All three are rigid, but Andy's inflexibility allows him to escape: With his long-past teenage rebellion already predestined and regard for his father bound up with the divine order, the only opening is toward a dimly remembered Norway, where his then-military family spent a few of his childhood years before God's plan started throttling him.
Call Star reporter Jay Harvey at (317) 444-6402.
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