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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Terrence McNally's Crucifixion Is a Compelling Drama

Also see Richard's review of Family Butchers, Little Women - The Musical, and Dearhtrap

Crucifixion
Andrew Nance & Colin Stuart
The New Conservatory Theatre Center is presenting the world premiere of Terrence McNally's controversial Crucifixion. The play was commissioned by the NCTC two years ago and the playwright wrote a piece with specific characters in mind. He interviewed over 150 actors; 11 can now be seen in this 1 hour and 45 minute one act play.

Crucifixion is still a play in progress and it could stand some tightening up as scenes go whizzing by at a fast rate of speed. Some of the scenes do not make sense and the chronology becomes confusing at times. That said, it is a fascinating play and you will be thinking about it when you leave the theatre. It's something people will hate or love, and it will shake up those members of the Opus Dei in the Catholic Church.

First, let me quote what Terrence McNally said in a New York Times interview: "I come from an Irish-Catholic background so I can find something wrong with everything." These are my own thoughts exactly since I have always found some fault with the organization of the Catholic Church even as a student as an all boys Catholic school.

Crucifixion is about a high profile TV producer who is violently murdered by a Jesuit priest. The cast is sort of a Greek chorus - always on stage giving a non-linear narrative with multiple storylines about the murder. We know of six degrees of separation; this is eleven degrees of separation and the ripple or butterfly effect comes into play as we finally learn all of the circumstances of the crime. There are labyrinths of affairs, secrets, and disclosure revealed as we are bounced like a ping pong ball from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Mr. McNally has opened the drama with a very interesting ploy. When the lights go up on the production we see eleven actors standing separately on a stark white, brilliantly lit stage. Scattered about them are austere, oblong white boxes to use as props. The actors go, one at a time, to center stage to introduce themselves with their real names and the characters they will be playing. The play's opening scene is shocking, as we see Father Jim (James Giraud) sitting on top of prone, naked television producer Don Capps (Scott Cox), choking him to death. From there we get the how and why as the story goes from what happened afterwards, before and the initial beginnings of the "butterfly" effect. It takes a while to get the eleven "dots" to connect but it finally comes to the audience toward end of this intriguing drama. The drama ends with the actors coming stage forward once again to announce their real names and the characters they played.

McNally sometimes brings in the philosophy of the Catholic Church, and that is very interesting. However, most of the play is more about the social side rather then the religious side of persons involved with the running of the church. One character says being Catholic and gay is as meaningless as being black, gay and Republican.

Terrence McNally has picked an excellent group of actors to play the various characters. However, some of the characters are more like caricatures. The actors are playing the roles like cartoons. As result you do get "over the top" acting, and that is what the playwright intended.

Colin Stuart is outstanding as Father Jim, the confused priest who has a combination of religious and sexual passion. His passion for hustlers who he likes to see with their bodies outstretched like Christ on the cross is erotic but somewhat mind disturbing.

Father Jim has two good friends who are also gay priests, played exceptionally well by Javier Galito-Cava and Brandford Cooreman. Galito-Cava plays Father Jackson as a frivolously gay person who has not gotten his sexual appetites under control. Cooreman plays the role of Father Tom as a person who has finally controlled his passion, much to the dismay of the other, even though he calls his religion "hypothetical ethics."

Scott Cox plays the egocentric television producer from hell. He plays the role so well you hate him. He does it so over the top that you can't help but wish him dead. There is no humanity in this person whatsoever.

Andrew Nance plays Alan the propagandistic hustler who wants to be an actor, and gives an engagingly smooth performance. He pops up everywhere in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. He does everything, including being a cab driver, a carpenter and what is probably a lousy singer. However, it appears he makes a pretty good living as a hustler. As he tells his clients, "I am a willing subject to your whims."

Patrick Michael Dukeman once again proves he is great with Mr. McNally's witty lines when he plays the flamboyant San Francisco television weatherman. He is the "Eve Arden" in this stringent drama, a real hoot. Amanda King plays his wife Bernadette, a would-be singer from the West Indies. She has excellent vocal chops when she breaks out in S"tormy Weather."

Cheryl Smith plays lesbian co-producer Carrie as a no-nonsense person while Lizzie Calogero as her mate Bethany has little to do but look pregnant. Their roles in this production are not fleshed out so we really don't know their story. Paul Araguistain, who plays a successful Broadway composer, and Camilla Busnovetsky, a tough public defender, are efficient in their roles.

Director Ed Decker helms a piercing stage production that moves along with a smooth, brisk pace. Giulio Cesare Perrone's white on white set is very striking with brilliant lighting by Matthew Miller. This is especially prominent when you see the Jesuit black cassock outfits against the whiteness of the set and lights. Outfits by Keri Fitch are smart. This is especially prevalent when the two gay priests in their black outfits just out of the seminary get a cab to the Castro District in San Francisco to blow off some steam.

At present, this production will not go East, and the program says that McNally will continue to develop the play. Maybe someday we will see an extended or tighter version of Crucifixion.

Crucifixion plays at the main theatre of the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness, San Francisco through November 20th. For tickets please call NCTC box office at 415-861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org.


Photo: Stephanie Temple


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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