Review: Faith Clashes with Family in the Superbly Acted “To She Who Waits”
To She Who Waits
Written by Bob Clyman
Directed by Maria Aladren
Presented by The American Renaissance Theater Company at Theatre 54
244 W. 54th St., 12th floor, Manhattan, NYC
May 23-June 8, 2019
|Carol Todd and Lee Eden. Photo credit: Michele Becker
Much of the play weaves seamlessly forward and backward in time as, in preparation for her custody hearing, Meg discusses with her no-nonsense lawyer, Sheila (Kathleen Swan), her conversations with Hannah recorded during their courthouse visits and the family history that has brought them to this point. Meg and Jack’s marriage is born of an accidental, though not unwelcome, pregnancy. Eventually, frustrated at work and unhappy at the lack of additional children, Jack becomes vulnerable to the sense of purpose and belonging offered by their church’s new pastor, the end-times preacher Uncle, smartly never shown onstage. Jack’s dedication to Uncle and his teachings drives a wedge between him and his wife that leads to divorce, progressively deteriorating shared custody of Hannah, and a restraining order. In the course of this, Hannah ends up living exclusively with her father, and, as Meg says at one point, the one who leaves always looks like the villain. Meanwhile, Uncle has established The Realm and has been accumulating children, legally signed over from unstable situations, through “scriptural adoption.” Meg is the first to resist in court, but will the lure of french fries, internet access, and lactose intolerance pills be enough to break through to a daughter who is deeply hurt by and resentful of what she sees as her mother’s abandonment?
The play’s title—which recalls Puritan writer John Milton’s famous line, concluding a sonnet in which he worries that his blindness will preclude him from honoring God with his talent, “They also serve who only stand and wait”—might apply to any of the three women at its center: Sheila has been waiting for, as evocatively she puts it, the mother she needs (in order to challenge Uncle’s church in court); Meg has been waiting for years to reunite with Hannah; and Hannah herself has stopped waiting for her mother and now waits only for God to bring about the apocalypse. The men’s waiting is less humanly oriented, unless one counts Jack’s fitful hope that Meg will renounce her path in life and embrace Uncle’s: Uncle’s Realm is conceived as a place to await the arrival of God, and Jack speaks, not unlike Milton, of the religious importance of waiting and of the ability to, he says, hear God in the silence. If Jack, like Hannah, has stopped waiting for Meg and now waits only for God, so Hannah, like Jack, uses faith (and substitute mothers) to fulfill emotional needs and to fill in absences.
|Kathleen Swan and Carol Todd. Photo credit: Michele Becker
While Clyman’s characters would probably agree that there are some things for which one should wait, seeing this excellent, memorably acted production is not one of them.
-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards