Moving Matthew Lombardo’s new play, High, to a Broadway stage is perhaps the worst thing that could have happened to his provocative new work. Even at the Booth Theatre, one of the smallest on Broadway today, it’s too vast. The space literally drowns the intimacy, dilutes the intensity, and mutes the intended effect.
This show had its world premiere in Hartford and traveled on to St. Louis along its journey to Broadway. I suspect, but am not entirely sure, that it played in those cities in smaller, more intimate houses. The story deserves an up-close and personal view where nobody is more than 2 or 3 rows away from the action, the anger, the emotion and intensity. A Broadway house, while perhaps enticing to the actors (fame, fortune, and recognition) and the producers (money, what else?) turns this play into a preachy, washed-out soap opera on a grand stage.
Nonetheless, Lombardo is to be lauded for his sharp sub-text on religion, politics, and salvation. Drugs are merely a vehicle for him to expose the characters – flaws and all. I was most disappointed in the star of the show, Ms. Turner, herself. She turned in what I deem the “expected” performance - a foul mouthed, yet reformed alcoholic turned to God, Sister Jamison Connelly. And that’s the problem in a nutshell - it’s too hard to forget she is Kathleen Turner playing this part. Although in real life she’s no nun, the rest is all too familiar. The weakest link by far was Stephen Kunken as Father Michael Delpapp. He lacked much conviction, seemed to be struggling to fit the words and dialogue into his performance and frankly was not a very convincing priest. While Lombardo has given him quite a stinging and pivotal role to play, his performance was nothing close.
The shinning star of the evening was newcomer Evan Jonikeit as Cody Randall. His portrayal as a mis-guided, abused, drug-addicted young man was superb. In this case, Lombardo and director, Rob Ruggiero imbued him very youthful character with a silent emotional depth, hurt, passion that shown with every moment he stood on stage.
Lombardo’s play is superb and deserves to be seen but it’s neither Ms. Turner nor the venue that should be the draw. The proximity of your to the actors and action will be in direct proportion to the emotional absorption and satisfaction with which you leave the theatre.