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A brilliant artistic concept turns out to be a mixed blessing.
By Hannah Wallace
Ever since I heard about it, I’d been looking forward to Wednesday night’s collaboration between G.WIZ and The Banyan Theater Company—a staged reading with Asolo alum actors (and family friends) David Howard and Annie Morrison, performing The Gravity of Honey by Bruce Rodgers (also an Asolo alum and friend to the Wallaces). For one thing, the play, as I recalled from years ago, is fantastic. And for another thing, when small, ambitious and, one might even say, quirky local arts groups start working together, there’s an exciting sort of…intellectual volatility…like taking two very different, explosive elements and throwing them in a fire and watching the strange new colors glow.
Y’see what G.WIZ does to me? I’m talking all science-projecty now.
Unfortunately, the event itself suffered some setbacks. AC issues, which in Florida always seem to have the same malicious timing indoors as thunderstorms do during outdoor events, exacerbated what was already a less-than-ideal performance space, which required the actors to be miked (microphones kind of hamper the all-important intimacy of the theater). And there were a couple of other organizational snafus that made some moments feel a little seat-of-the-pants—although you could blame a lot of that on the exceptional turnout, which is definitely not anything to complain about.
To preview the dramatic reading, the welcoming remarks were a performance piece highlighting humanity’s struggles to communicate as technology puts up barriers between us (ie people wrestled with the mic system while audience members in the back created a counter-productive din of “We can’t hear you!”).
Most inspiring was a pre-show narrative setting the scene that doubled as an homage to the prologue in Henry V—“For tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings.” In this version, the narrator generously explained the nature of a staged reading and espoused the importance of imagination (while noting in the same breath and without irony that stage directions would be read, too—for the imaginatively handicapped, I suppose). Yes, I chose to interpret that speech as an artistic challenge and not a borderline condescending set of “how to watch a play” instructions. Let’s just…be careful about that, can we please, people?
(The pre-play introduction, by the way, also included the announcement of this summer’s Banyan season: Ibsen’s Ghosts, The Drawer Boy by Michael Healey, and what looks to be an exciting production of a play set against the backdrop of the 1940s jazz world—The Side Man by Warren Leight—which Banyan founder Jerry Finn promises will include some world-class musical talent.)
Then came the play itself, which, in all seriousness, still manages to transcend whatever distractions it encounters.
The Gravity of Honey was produced years ago in the Asolo’s Cook theater—as a bonus part of the Asolo season, as I recall—and it was one of those theatrical experiences that has really stuck with me. It’s about a promiscuous, unconventionally spiritual lounge singer, Honey, who suddenly (and cheerfully) feels compelled to befriend an aging Catholic priest and write endless mathematical formulas that she herself barely (if at all) understands. She soon realizes that her uncontrollable scribblings are working toward defining the fabric of the universe and thus proving the existence of God. The priest is at first skeptical and offended. But their friendship grows, and in a moment of empathy, the priest begins believing in Honey’s work. From there he grows more and more obsessed with the science that might justify his life’s work.
The closer Honey gets to understanding these things, though, the more her body deteriorates, so there’s a sad progression as the priest pushes through the project even though Honey’s losing her joie de vivre—as well as her job and her ability to walk, and, eventually, her ability to communicate at all.
In one great moment (of many), the priest realizes that he’ll never get his definite answer and laments that by looking for absolute proof, he’s lost his faith. Honey responds that his faith was what kept him at her side, looking after her as her body gave out, and so his faith is as strong as ever.
It takes a lot to tell a story that both explores intellectual ideas and portrays sincere human emotions. And that’s the kind of stuff that sticks with you.
So, ok, this wasn’t the smoothest sailing event, and I admit that I probably set my expectations impossibly high, which is why I felt bad about the various problems distracting from what I’d dreamed would be a pure, simple and thus transcendent artistic experience.
But I will maintain that the most important point is that this was a play—and one of great merit, at that—performed in a science museum, and attended by a dedicated, attentive and intellectually curious crowd. And for that, I’ll gladly hope for 1,000 more events just like it.