“What Kind of God?” the title of Steve Julian’s play now at the Lillian Theatre asks, would allow the abuse of children at the hands of his anointed representatives on earth?
I found in myself an echoing of that same question, “What kind of God would make me sit through this?”
Mister Julian has buried the stage at the Lillian beneath a mountainous mass of words, concepts, tirades, doggerel, lucubrations, and lumpishness that in no way can be called a play. What is presented to the audience is an uneconomical muddle of ideas and notions of conflicts as impenetrable as Br’er Rabbit’s briar patch.
The characters do not engage in dialogue, which would hold the possibility of engaging the audience as well, but rather serve as mouthpieces for a flow of declaratory statements that approaches theatrical white noise.
Aaron Lyons fails in one of a director’s primary duties, that of being midwife to the play. He betrays his actors by indulging their excesses, the most egregious case being that of Brett Donaldson as Aaron, whose performance at points seems nearer to a seizure on stage. Robert Keasler as Father Bart battles valiantly, but he too is slowly sucked down into “the watery waste” of words.
Mister Julian has constructed one of the most convoluted arcs conceivable.
Aaron (Donaldson) is being considered for a full scholarship to Norte Dame and a place on their swimming team which he owes to his coach, spiritual counselor and friend Father Bart (Keasler). But when Father Bart reveals he is a gay man Aaron is filled with disgust and violently rejects him. But hold on, following his first inept attempt at coupling with a fellow student (Emily M. Faris), Aaron surmises he must be gay as well and appears late one night on Father Bart’s doorstep demanding that they become lovers.
Father Bart, who is not and never has been a predator priest, refuses Aaron’s advances, explaining he has maintained his vow of celibacy since joining the clergy while assuring Aaron that stumbling the first time out of the starting gate does not mean one is gay. Being thus rebuffed, Aaron is – wait for it – filled with disgust and violently rejects him. Then, though he has a slot awaiting him at Norte Dame, a loving and supportive “aunt” (Katherine McGehee), a young girl who wants a physical relationship with him, and the wise counsel of a gentle priest who has never molested anyone, poor, poor Aaron finds life too great a burden and the shame of…never having been molested too unbearable, hangs himself.
End of Spoiler alert!
In classical tradition the protagonist possesses some “tragic flaw” that leads inevitably to his down fall. In bad drama, the main character is just a jerk.
In the program notes, Mister Julian indicates “What Kind of God?” is the first of a planned trilogy of plays. If those next two never see the light of day it will go some distance to restoring my faith in the Supreme Being.
The piece runs close to two hours and Lyons offers no intermission. There are only two motives a director would have for making this choice. The first is to avoid an interruption of that dramatic tension which a well crafted play will grip an audience in. The second reason stems from the apprehension that once released the bulk of the audience would not return.
At least in this instance Mr. Lyons was correct.
What Kind of God?
1076 Lillian Way
Hollywood, CA 90038
(1½ blocks west of Vine at Santa Monica Blvd.)
Sept. 14-Oct. 20
Thursdays @ 8 p.m.: Sept. 19, 26; Oct. 3, 10, 17
Fridays @ 8 p.m.: Sept. 20, 27; Oct. 4, 11, 18
Saturdays @ 8 p.m.: Sept. 21, 28; Oct. 5, 12, 19
Sundays @ 3 p.m.: Sept. 22, 29; Oct. 6, 13, 20
General admission: $23