Also see Fred's review of The Winter's Tale
The audience was both surprised and receptive during a recent Saturday matinee, when writer Lombardo, who recovered from crystal meth addiction himself, delivered a catchy and engaging pre-show talk. A muscular man who grew up in the Hartford region, he is known for previous plays he scripted such as Tea at Five and Looped. Lombardo abused drugs when he was in his mid-thirties while Cody is not yet twenty years of age. Kathleen Turner, in order to cope with rheumatoid arthritis and various surgeries, admits that she turned to alcohol.
Sister Jamison has been assigned Cody by Father Michael Delpapp (Michael Berresse). We learn, during the second act, that Father Delpapp has an even deeper connection to Cody. The playwright hooks his audience from the opening moment, provides framework and context during the first hour, and then adds intrigue after intermission.
By modifying a formula which advocates a plotline driven by character, Lombardo couples persona with harsh situation as forces that coalesce to press High forward with increasing intensity. It all begins with Kathleen Turner. As outfitted by Jess Goldstein, Turner hasn't the look one might anticipate. She wears a black sweater, black pants, and a light blue shirt. Her still blondish hair is pulled back. Turner, who has had one knee replacement and other operations, is stiff of carriage. Her presence, however, is that of one tough, terse and demanding woman.
Remember, in case you've forgotten, that this is the same performer who was and is better known for smashing appearances in films such as Body Heat, Romancing the Stone, Peggy Sue Got Married and War of the Roses. More recently, she has turned to the live stage with roles in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, The Graduate, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and other plays.
Turner's deep voice, a mixture of smoke and gravel, is absolutely recognizable. Now 56, she is divorced and has a 23-year-old daughter. She has once again hit the road, so to speak, with this play. She embodies a Sister Jamison who is anguished. The character is dealing with her own earlier circumstances as she attempts to lead Cody to a different and better place. If Turner is dominant, actor Evan Jonigkeit is startling and unavoidable as wiry, strung-out Cody. Cody is angry and despairing but he is not unsympathetic. He is unable to read with any fluency and his overall life prospects are dim.
Father Delpapp (Berresse) is far more in control during the first act as opposed to the second. He, too, is fighting his past while coaxing Sister Jamison to face the present and Cody. Berresse is a well disciplined actor.
Rob Ruggiero is a terrific small-cast ensemble director and he proves his talents once again with his facilitation of High. Ruggiero pushes and pulls adroitly to bring out the best from his three actors.
Lombardo writes dialogue which, when spoken, is tight and compelling. Still, High, from time to time, has a familiar feel to it, like the territory has been explored many a time through various genres. David Gallo's set choices are all black (backgroundsometimes with "stars") and white chair and table. The visual contrast is arresting. Turner, focused and stirring, is ever center stage and continuously on.
High continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford, Connecticut, through August 22nd. For tickets, call (860) 527-7838 or visit theaterworkshartford.org.
- Fred Sokol