By Keith Bunin. Directed by Richard Wolfe. A one2theatre production presented by Pacific Theatre. At Pacific Theatre on Friday, September 24. Continues until October 16
The script for The Busy World Is Hushed will speak most powerfully to the faithful and those flirting with faith, but the excellent acting is there for everyone to enjoy.
Keith Bunin’s play looks at the ways in which religion inflects experiences of love and loss. Hannah, a widowed Episcopalian minister, is terrified of losing her adult son Thomas, but he finds her concern for his safety so suffocating that he’s been playing a game he calls Get Lost since he was 10 (he’s now 26): he hurls himself into mapless journeys to see if he can survive. Thomas has landed temporarily at his mom’s place to try to untangle the murky circumstances of his father’s death when he meets Brandt, Hannah’s new assistant, and the two fall in love. This is dangerous for Brandt, because his own dad is dying, and Thomas isn’t what you’d call reassuringly stable.
Early on, Thomas articulates the script’s central question: is religion simply a desperate attempt to make death bearable? Speaking as a nonreligious guy, the answer seems pretty obvious: yeah, that seems to be a large part of it.
As Hannah and Brandt analyze a recently discovered gospel that may predate the accepted New Testament versions of events, playwright Bunin argues that the Bible is a politicized, culturally specific text, or as Hannah puts it, “a self-contradictory, haphazardly edited compilation”. But none of this will be news to thinking people.
At times, the script feels more schematic than meaty. The play is tediously coy about letting Thomas and Brandt get to the sex part. And although I understood Hannah’s grief and its effect on her relationship with her son, I often didn’t really feel it.
Fortunately, under Richard Wolfe’s direction, the cast is tremendous. With his humble posture, stray-dog winsomeness, and the boyish way he sticks his tongue out when amused, Sebastian Kroon goes a long way toward making the elusive Thomas charming. Adam Bergquist intelligently and thoroughly delineates the landscape of Brandt’s shyness, longing, and grief. And nobody is more openhearted on-stage than Gina Chiarelli, who plays Hannah. In the Act 2 crisis, Chiarelli makes us feel as well as understand what it’s like to screw up while behaving with good intentions.
The Busy World Is Hushed is at its best when it leaves its talkative head and lands in its generous heart.