Wednesday, May 13, 2009

'Facing' the truth

M&D's 'Facing East' offers rewarding night of theater

Faith can be a beautiful, uplifting thing with the power to wrap people in a comforting love. But faith can also have an ugly, destructive side, and M&D’s production of Carol Lynn Pearson’s “Facing East” confronts that darker side head on.

“Facing East,” which opens Thursday, May 14, at Your Theatre in Willow Common in North Conway, is set at the grave of Andy, following his funeral. His parents, Ruth and Alex (Karen O’Neil and Kevin O’Neil), have stayed behind because Alex believes the funeral was a lie and wants to do it right even if it is only the surrounding trees that hear it.

The lie was ignoring that Andy was gay, something that went directly against his Mormon upbringing. That conflict between his true identity and a faith that deemed it a sin led to a self loathing that would drive him to suicide.

Ruth clings to her faith, even using it justify the death as a blessing in disguise, but Alex can no longer take solace in his faith. When Andy’s partner Marcus (Jeff Warach) joins Ruth and Alex at the grave, there are revelations that challenge Ruth’s views of her faith.

“Facing East” is similar in tone and theme to John Patrick Shanley’s play-turned-movie “Doubt.” The play doesn’t condemn religion, whatever denomination someone may be, but instead it explores the dangers of following the dogma of a church blindly and with an unremitting rigidness.

It is not humanity’s job to judge who is damned, and yet so many do. That is the theme at the center of Pearson’s play. Pearson is an advocate of forgiveness and acceptance.

Both leads are effective at showing the grief on their faces. Even without a line of dialogue, we know that they are grappling with heavy emotions. Much of the dialogue is delivered directly to the audience, giving the show an intimacy and intensity that is hard to ignore.

There are flashbacks, with Karen O’Neil and Kevin O’Neil alternating playing Andy. This is an effective device that is enhanced by moody blue lighting.

Kevin O’Neil is quite affecting portraying Alex’s struggle with his son’s death and the guilt he feels for not being understanding enough of his son.

Karen O’Neil has a tricky job as she manages to make Ruth empathetic even though she is often insufferable and infuriating. All Ruth has ever known is her faith, and so in this time of mourning she holds it tightly and refuses to let go.

Warach’s appearance comes late in the play, but injects new life into the proceedings.
He is good at balancing Marcus’ anger toward Ruth and Alex with his anguish.

The sparse set of an open grave surrounded by bare trees on a slanted stage is evocative and never lets the audience forget what was lost.

“Facing East” is an emotionally charged play that isn’t easy viewing, but it raises important issues and as an acting showcase is a strong piece of theater that is well worth the effort.

For more information visit or call 662-7591.

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