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June 11, 2007

Facing East, a moving, poignant drama by Carol Lynn Pearson at Atlantic Stage 2 is not to be missed

Theater: Atlantic Stage 2, 330 W16th St. NYC
Show Title: Facing East by Carol Lynn Pearson
Producer: Plan-B Theatre Company
Opened: May 29, 2007 Scheduled to close: June 17
Seen: June 8, 2007
Reviewer: Peter Kelston
Submitted: June 10, 2007

Anyone interested in seeing excellent theater should make every effort to catch this powerful, effective drama before it closes. Or hope that it is extended and/or picked up for a full commercial run. Following a successful run in November 2006 in Salt Lake City, Plan-B Theatre Company is the first Utah-based theatre company in history to transfer a production off-Broadway.

Running an efficient 75 minutes, this tautly written three-hander is a superb example of how theater can address major social issues by enabling us to see and feel the impact they have on the most private aspects of our personal lives.

This production gives us everything we go to theater for. A touching, heartfelt script, a wonderful production, and three finely honed performances under the sure hand of director Jerry Rapier, assisted by the precision of set, lighting and sound designers. And this all happens in Atlantic’s beautiful, sleek but cozy and very comfortable new space (four blocks south of its primary home on W20th).

Alex and his wife Ruth are an exemplary Mormon couple. He is a radio personality who dispenses sound bites of advice on parenting. She is a loyal wife, proud mother, and a staunch observer of their church’s doctrine. They stand beside an open grave. The formal service for the burial of their son Andrew, a young gay man, has just concluded. In these opening moments, as they reflect on their son’s life and death, Charles Lynn Frost as Alex and Jayne Luke as Ruth give us a master class in precise, measured timing and tempo. This level of precision is maintained for the duration of the piece.

Ready to leave, Ruth tells him that workmen are waiting to fill in the grave. But Alex cannot leave because he does not yet understand how their observant life and their love for their son could have led to this unbearable tragedy. Ruth observes that the gravesite faces East, the best direction for meeting the dawn on the day of resurrection.

Alex wonders what happens to those whose graves face in a different direction. Andrew, in life, had faced in a different direction. It was a direction that ultimately led him to take his own life, in violent fashion, on the grounds of their beloved temple.

Alex says that he must stay and conduct a private service because no one attending the public service knew or understood who Andrew was, including themselves. Individually and together, they reflect on who Andrew was. They talk to each other, and in a few quiet moments, each of them is lit in isolation as we hear their internal conversation with Andrew (voiced by the other parent from upstage in shadow).

Andrew was an accomplished musician and a pious Church member who had wrestled mightily for many years with his sexuality because acting on his inclinations is expressly forbidden by the Mormon church.

Finally, a year ago, he seemed to have reconciled himself to his sexuality when he met and started living with Marcus, another young gay man. Andrew was excommunicated by the church and rejected by his parents, who refused to meet the one person who made Andrew happy.

After some deep soul searching at the graveside, Alex and Ruth are interrupted by the arrival of a demure young man who recognizes them from a photo on his mantelpiece. Marcus has been waiting respectfully before paying his final respects, knowing that he was not welcome at the public service. Jay Perry’s performance as Marcus is exquisite.

Someone who truly knows Andrew has arrived. The love between Andrew and Marcus is soon made clear. What is also made clear is how staunch beliefs and adherence to doctrine can lead those who love to behave in unloving, extremely damaging ways.

Who is open to learning and understanding, who is not, and how this unfolds is a theatrical treat which should be experienced in person.

Try to see Facing East if you possibly can. You will be touched. You will be moved. And you will leave the theater knowing you've seen something special.

Peter Kelston

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