Sunday, December 6, 2009

Gracious Virtues

The Memorial Players based at Bolton Hill's Memorial Episcopal Church recently offered an inspirational anthology of scenes illustrating the themes of faith, hope, and charity. The opening scene, the famous table confrontation between Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker, was vividly executed by Chloe Wright (Helen) and Stacey McGhee (Annie). The physical realism of the battle between two determined women had the audience wincing and occasionally moaning in their seats. Christopher Mergen (Peter) and Amelia Wright (Anne) delicately recreated one of the lighter moments in The Diary of Anne Frank: the courtship scene between two hunted, uncertain adolescents. In O. Henry's perennial Christmas favorite, The Gift of the Magi, Halima Aquino and Jamie Griffith movingly expressed the affection and the humiliating poverty of the newly wed couple. This dramatic version by Thomas Hischak brings out the theological dimensions of the story. Extended references to the original Magi, King Solomon, and even the obscure Queen of Sheba give a broader framework to a story that often appears as sheer sentimentality in its more secularized film and television versions. One of the evening's heroes was set designer John Seeley; his breezy painted side panels provided visual definition to the spare production and elegantly echoed the vaulted ceiling and chandeliers of the Parish Hall, where the plays were performed. Adele Russell's sophisticated direction brought out the emotional truth at the core of each scene and underscored the universality of what could otherwise appear to be very private moments in families that are clearly different from the contemporary American norm. Gracious Virtues is a model of what church theater, as opposed to the simple performance of dramatic pieces on church property, can truly be.

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