- OnStage New York Critic
Cleaning out the house after the funeral of Zoe (Pamela Sabaugh) becomes a reunion of four of her former summer camp mates. The occasion is depressing as well as their memories of the Christian Science camp the leader of which, Joan (Lynne Lipton), preached that prayer could cure a disability. This was of little help to Sharon (Shannon DeVido), Donald (David Harell), Bonnie (Jamie Petrone) and Laura (Mary Theresa Archbold) the disabled kids from back then, who eventually shut down the camp for good. “If it was so bad, why did you keep coming back year after year”, – at some point asks Greg, Bonnie’s boyfriend. The gang doesn’t know what to say. But we know that it is the support of one another that made summer camp with a highly questionable agenda a place where friendships for life were made.
The Healing written by Drama Desk and Obie Award-winning playwright Samuel D. Hunter is a cleverly written piece that deals openly and honestly with the “uncomfortable” topic of disability. Six of seven characters have some kind of disability with the exception of Joan, the former camp counselor. But even with the predominance of disabled characters the play doesn’t get stuck on this fact. Cutting out pity and unnecessary sentiments, it tells the story of seven people dealing with limitations of faith, pride and principles.
Even when Hunter talks about physical limitations he does it with a lot of healthy humor. When Bonnie (lively portrayed by Jamie Petrone) tells about the first date with her deaf boyfriend Greg (devotedly played by John McGinty) the audience can’t stop laughing. Here is how the story goes. Bonnie was set up by her coworker, who naively decided that the wheel chair bound Bonnie and deaf Greg, by default, have much in common. Bonnie sabotaged her date by choosing a cheesy restaurant and an unflattering outfit. But when she actually met a handsome and nice guy she got so nervous that she had two martinis in 20 minutes. “I’m sorry, I got a little drunk because you being deaf makes me nervous”, - she said to him and asked for some time to sober up in silence.
Those side stories make the characters so real and lovable allowing an instant connection to them. The cast of talented actors directed by Stella Powell-Jones has an incredible chemistry. Every one of them deserves praise but I especially want to pay tribute to Shannon DeVido, playing skeptical sharp-tongued Sharon, for her talented delivery of the funniest and the saddest moments in a very contained yet powerful performance. Her background in comedy enriches her dramatic talent greatly.
DeVido, being a petite lady, manages to portray a character of a large and strong personality. Confident and cynical, successful professional, she is only vulnerable when alone with her memories of Zoe. Pamela Sabaugh is very convincing as a woman fading out while suffering from severe depression. Zoe surrounds herself with chachkies she buys from infomercials. The set design by Jason Simms features a cramped living room where every surface is crammed with collections of figurines and walls are chaotically decorated with pictures and baskets. This abundance gives the actors an opportunity to move around a lot while packing the house. Zoey’s messy but cozy living room falls apart right in front of our eyes.
A large part of the sound design by Brandon Wolcott consists of the infomercials convincing that some keepsake for only 19.99 would be a great heirloom that will outlive you. At times the sound fades away, but it seems like the TV is always on. Nobody turns it off in fear of being left alone with his or her deepest concerns. Zoe’s suicide makes everybody in the room vulnerable in the face of their own depressions, panic attacks and insecurity.
John McGinty playing Greg, the outsider of the group who didn’t share the summer camp experience with the rest of them, is put in the position of listener, which makes him a representative of the audience on stage. It is no coincidence that the audience is forced to identify with the only deaf character. Greg reads lips, he has his girlfriend Bonnie to help him out with translating to and from ASL, he is eager to hear the next person out, and yet miscommunication is inevitable. Like when Laura dims the light in the room because she has migraine and starts telling Greg the story of her life. I felt a lot like Greg myself. Even though I can hear what Laura is saying, I can never fully understand what is like to grow up in the orphanage for disabled kids in Latvia.
The Healing is a very smart and subtle piece of theater. It grabs you quickly with its tasty cynical humor and holds you tight by the talented actors. This “living room drama” has an unconventional cast of actors whose disabilities are not always visible, which underhandedly raises a question of the representation of disability in arts and mass culture. But regardless of your interest in this topic I highly recommend seeing The Healing, as it is a remarkable show.
The Healing is produced by Theater Breaking Through Barriers and runs through July 16th at Theatre Row's Clurman Theatre (410 West 42nd Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues). Performances are Tuesday - Wednesday at 7pm, Thursday - Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm & 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $55, available at 212-239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com. For additional information, visit www.tbtb.org.