Opened June 19, 2008 at the Aurora Theatre Company, Berkeley
Anne Darragh (left) is an Episcopalian minister and Chad Deverman is her writing assistant in Keith Bunin’s The Busy World Is Hushed at the Aurora Theatre Company in Berkeley. Photos by David Allen
Thoughts on faith, love, family make noise in Hushed
Aurora Theatre Company concludes its 16th season with a thoughtful love story/dysfunctional family drama cloaked in theological robes.
Keith Bunin’s The Busy World Is Hushed has its soapy, melodramatic moments, but there’s much more to the play – musings on gays, God, getting lost and being found — that satisfies both intellectually and emotionally.
There aren’t that many plays around that address the notion of faith from both an organized religion standpoint and from a less structured spiritual place. Bunin’s play opens the conversation without preaching too hard or making anyone look foolish. That in itself makes the play worth seeing.
In addition to an intelligent discussion of God’s place in our modern lives, Busy World throws in a tortured mother-son relationship, a love story between two mid-20s men and a crisis of faith for a son slowly losing his father to a terminal illness. That’s a lot to stuff into two hours, but Bunin manages it, and director Robin Stanton (who did such wonderful work on the Aurora’s Permanent Collection) lends it a naturalism infused with realistic rhythms that pull the audience into the fraught conversations.
How appropriate that this tale is told simply – one set (by Eric E. Sinkkonen, complete with stained-glass windows above, and a regular window looking out onto a cold, gray New York) and a trinity of characters in various stages of belief.
Hannah (Anne Darragh) is an Episcopalian minister and seminary professor. She is a great believer in God – not the God depicted in stained-glass windows or trumped up Catholic mythology but the human Jesus who spoke and taught and performed miracles. She’s liberal in her beliefs but strict in her faith. She’s in the process of decoding a newly discovered gospel that could turn out to predate the existing gospels in the Bible, and if genuine, could be the closest thing to the true words of Christ.
To help her write the book on the gospels, she has hired an aspiring author, Brandt (Chad Deverman), whose own writing is blocked and needs a project to help him concentrate. Brandt’s father has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and his belief in anything is severely shaken. “All religion,” Brandt says, “is an attempt to make death more bearable.”
And then there’s Hannah’s 26-year-old son, Thomas (James Wagner), who doesn’t believe in anything beyond running away. He has just returned from “getting lost,” a game he plays where he throws himself into someplace wild with few provisions then challenges himself to make it out alive. Damaged by his father’s death (and possible suicide) before he was even born, Thomas resents his mother’s immersion in faith and the fact that her relationship with Jesus is often stronger than her relationship with him.
Stanton’s actors are excellent, and this is one of those plays that benefits tremendously from the Aurora’s intimacy. There’s no escaping the passion of Thomas and Brandt’s budding romance just as there’s no turning away from the final confrontation between mother and son, with God, hypocrisy and loneliness wafting through the chasm between them. Bunin comes down hard on Hannah and Thomas, and their rift, full of harsh accusations and hard truths, is truly painful.
There’s not a lot of peace or resolution in this Busy World, which is best, but there’s a lot of common sense and even insight into the complexities of faith and the complexities of living outside faith. Hearts and souls are tangled and torn, God is abused and praised. And the audience is left in a state of contemplation.
The Busy World Is Hushed continues through July 20 at the Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $40-$42. Call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org for information.
The play’s title, by the way comes from the following benediction:
May the Lord support us all the day long,
Till the shades lengthen and the evening comes
and the busy world is hushed,
and the fever of life is over,
and our work is done.
Then in his mercy may he give us
a safe lodging
and a holy rest,
and peace at last.