Frenetic “God Only Knows”
At The Theater with Audrey Linden
Playwright, Hugh Whitmore’s American premiere of “God Only Knows” opened at Theater 40 last week. This play with its overtones of religiosity raised some interesting issues about God, Jesus, faith, belief, but it got bogged down in a lot of historical rhetoric about the origins of Christianity. The play seemed half a melodramatic “who done it” thriller and half a historical religious theory dissertation. Unfortunately, despite Theater 40’s talented cast, the two elements did not come together as a meaningful whole. The melodrama succumbed to the historical religious rhetoric.
Jeff G. Rack’s splendid set of an Italian villa, with a vine covered cottage with an outdoor brick patio gave the 5 actors a wonderfully realistic space to work in. Bill Froggatt’s sound design added immensely to establish the reality.
As Act 1 opens, two British couples are sitting outdoors while vacationing in a charming villa in Tuscany. Vin, marvelously acted by David Hunt Stafford, is less than thrilled with the slow pace of Tuscany. But, his wife Kate, well-acted by Wendy Radford likes the choice. But she is not thrilled with being there with the other couple. Charles (Chet Grissom) was married to her best friend, Alice, whom he divorced for the beautiful Eleanor, (Pippa Hinchley). It is an awkward situation and she and Vin bicker. Their bickering is interrupted by a car crash on their private road. They hope the crash won’t spoil their holiday. Vin exclaims, “God Almighty, what’s to spoil?” Little does he know as Biddulph meanders onto the scene with a bleeding head injury that their whole boring vacation will suddenly explode. Biddulph speaks in a nervous rash of disjointed words. Perhaps he is disjointed due to the crash and his head injury? Odd that he is wearing pajamas. He explains the pajamas by saying he is a recluse. Turns out he escaped from a clinic, and someone is after him. Thus the thriller aspect of the play begins.
As he rambles on it appears Biddulph, an authenticator of ancient and scholarly religious material, has uncovered a shocking document the Catholic Church would not want disclosed. He was hired to work on the document by the Vatican. He frantically spins his story, and tells the couples, now they too could be in danger. People from the clinic are looking for him, “people who want to silence me.” He rambles on in bursts of nervous chatter, and his sanity is called into question as is everything he says.
Bottitta spoke in frenetically loud bursts of speech, and the fast paced speech pattern only increased which became nerve wracking. Perhaps director David Mc Clendon used the break neck pacing to wade through tombs of religious speeches, but for me it did not work. I was uncomfortable with the constant rambling. The rapid fire stammering, which was so integral to Biddulph’s character, became fiercely irritating. And, the stammering seemed a device by which Bottitta seemed to reach for his lines and to recover. One line, which was to be “historically” correct, came out as “hysterically” correct. It was bothersome. Bottitta never wavered and the intensity only built. When you start on such a big level, there is nowhere to build for a climax.
I felt the quality and reality of the Brits was lost despite the actors ‘superb accents. There is a fine sensibility about British people. What I have always enjoyed, and still do, is their civility, even in a crisis. The British are so damn proper and civilized. I think of the fine performances in “Downton Abbey”, Angela Lansbury in her t v series, “Murder She Wrote”, and Geoffry Rush’s compelling and delicate performance in “The Book Thief”. The Brits maintain their cool, even in times of espionage and danger. Mc Clendon’s direction had the pacing of Jules Pfeiffer’s “Little Murderers”” and the play did not seem British anymore. It seemed more like Jules Feiffer’s “Little Murderers” or a Neil Simon play with New York pacing rather than British. It did not ring true.
I understand the dilemma. How do you get through long and tedious monologues which seem like a dissertation on the origins of Christianity or a theological debate? But, speeding up and having the lead actor speak at a such a frenetic pace did not work. The play is flawed in the writing and in the directing. Vin says, “Searching for the truth is highly over rated.” I agree.
Interesting perspectives on the origins of Christianity, and questions as to the authenticity of the crucifixion and resurrection were presented. But the drama was sacrificed as was the feeling that these people were really British also was sacrificed. They spoke with British accents but they seemed rooted in a New York or Brooklyn state of mind.
David Hunt Stafford’s Vin served to ground Bottitta’s nervous ramblings and he maintained the civility of the Brits, a bit more so than the other characters. He alone was “the calm in the storm”.
“God Only Knows” at theatre 40, located at The Reuben Cordova Theater at Beverly Hills High School, runs through April 20th. The Theater is at 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills and there is ample free parking in the structure. For show times and tickets, call 310-364-0535 or go on line to www.theatre40.org
Audrey Linden is a writer, actress and singer. She can be seen in a long-running “Associated Tax Resolution” commercial, two “Little Caesars” spots, a “Teva International Pharmaceutical” short, Gene Simmons’ “Family Jewels,” “America’s Court with Judge Ross,” VHS “Tough Love 2,” “Wendy’s” etc.
Audrey teaches ON CAMERA COMMERCIAL and IMPROV COMEDY WORKSHOPS through the City of Beverly Hills. To register, call 310-285-6850. Her classes are held at 241 Moreno Dr. B.H. 90212. Her next IMPROV Comedy class starts March 31st and is 7 Mondays for $105 from 6:45 to 9:15 P M. Her ON CAMERA COMMERCIAL class starts in April 3 from 6:45 to 9:15 P M. for 7 Thursdays at $105 (plus a $5 materials fee payable the first night). CALL 310-285-6850 M-F 8:30 A M to 3:30 P M to get a pin # and on line enrollment instructions. For more information, contact Audrey at firstname.lastname@example.org