Monday, April 18, 2005

Dead Man Walking

"Whosoever shall shed man's blood, his blood shall be shed."
-Genesis 9:6

A while back, Tim Robbins made a second adaptation of Dead Man Walking, a book by Sr. Helen Prejean,C.S.J. based on two personal experiences she had with the death penalty, this time for the high school stage instead of the silver screen. Impressed with the Jesuit Order's record in social justice ministry, he decided to distribute it to select Jesuit high schools to be perfomed as a "test balloon" of sorts. Originally, I had only planned to write one simple review of the version I saw at my alma mater, Strake Jesuit of Houston, TX. I should have known in advance that anything written about the Southwell Players (the drama troupe of the school, of which I was honored to number myself during my senior year) would be anything but simple, brief, or singular, particularly when you see the performance twice, even more particularly when it deals with such a myriad of issues as this play did. Then I thought "hey, I should make this a week long serial sort of thing!" until I realized that it is rare for me to make 5 posts a week, or one a day, though I may get into that habit if I post on a web log that I do not share. So I decided to go upon a golden mean, being the good Aristotelico-Thomist that I am. I'll write a few, probably three, within the span of a week, if possible, but I've got a calculus test Friday, so if I'm delayed, forgive me.
The performances were all brilliant. The first thing to remember about any play is that it is very much like a living person. I may be happy one day and then sad the next. A play can emphasize one aspect of the story one day and another the next. Friday I saw the humanity of the man, Saturday the inhumanity of the system that killed him. Sunday, out of curiosity, I watched the movie, which drove me to the question: "what is it in us that demands such a thirst for blood when it is spilled by another?" Make no mistake: the families in the story did not simply go along with the State, they wanted this. They wanted the murderer of their children dead. I don't just wonder if they would have him raped as the girl, Hope Percy, was raped, if they could have. Perhaps Hobbes was on to more than we would care to admit. Or maybe St. Augustine.
The leads, Sr. Prejean (Karen Cook) and Matthew Poncelet (Jared Hardin) were both excellent. In Prejean, there was an initial confusion about what to do, left only with a rock-solid faith in God to stand upon and pull her through, and a frustration with Poncelet that came out beautifully as she tried to make him realize the stakes and attain salvation. Particularly wonderful with this was the scene where Poncelet quips that the execution of Christ and his own are similar because of why they were killed, at which Prejean snaps at him for even thinking such a thing. Poncelet came off with enough badness to force you to believe that this was indeed a man who killed two people, one after raping her. Yet there was just enough of him that wanted to reform, who knew that this was his last chance, so that with some coaxing from Prejean, he came about in the end.
The leads, though, are just the tip of the iceberg. They are what you see most of the time, but without a solid base, without good supporting actors and actresses, the best lead will only be the ringmaster of a circus gone terribly awry. There were no such problems here. Of special interest were the Percys (Ugo Egbunike and Christina Agenend) Mr. Hilton (Ed Roman) and Mrs. Poncelet (Kelly Reese), Matthew's mother. The hurt of the Percys, which festered into anger towards everything, finally manifesting itself in a bloody vengeance, the grounded hope and zeal of Hilton, and the unconditional love of a mother and the state of Matthew's home life shown by Mrs. Poncelet, all real, all incredible, all haunting.
Among other things that I plan to write about on this vein are an examination of the death penalty in general, and the role of the chaplain in the play. Let's face it, when you have a hopeful to the priesthood seeing a play where a preist is involved in a controversial role (chaplain for death row inmates, which means that he makes money from the death row system) I'm going to write about it.
To anyone who accuses me of bias, that because I was once part of that theatre my judgement is naturally going to be favored towards them, allow me to reassure you that I would not dishonor the Players by declaring a horrible performance good.
Just as a matter (or matters, I should say) of trivia: during the sequence of photographs that played during the pardon board hearing, you could see a shot of a classic Fightin' Texas Aggie Bonfire (WHOOP!) and on the inside of Poncelet's right bicep, there was tattooed a rather curious yet strangely familiar land animal... I wonder what it could have been?
+Ad Majorem Dei Gloram+
"Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay."
-Romans 12:19

How could I possibly post something about the theatre without complementing those behind the stage? How silly of me. Yes, come to think of it, I think a special technical award should go those fine daring devils who selflessly manned the perilous projectors of the private prep. place. (that's alliteration, for those who are curious). Ward, Danny...cheers!

Having only spent a day helping Audrey with the myriad of lights, I would like to commend her and anyone else who was even remotely involved with the lighting during the show for not putting a damper on an already "heavy" show by commiting suicide. Y'all rock!

Sound guys...Trey, possibly Tim (?), very nice. We all knew you'd come through. The sound used for this play was in an unusually large amount. The amount of music used might actually compare with the amount used in a movie of the same length, plus the endless stream of gunshots, phone rings, heartbeats, cell doors opening and closing, and of course, the electric buzz of "ol' sparky", as they refer to it in Huntsville.

A job well done all around.

+Ad Majorem Dei Gloram+


WHOOP! One Fightin' Texas Aggie Bonfire, coming right up!!! (this is actually the same photo used in the sequence I mentioned last time.)


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