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    Messiah moments

    The super-imaginative "transFigures," about the people who begin to imagine themselves divine while visiting the Holy Land, rises heavenward on the strength of its creative director, cast and crew.


    What happens when the voice of God pays you a little visit while touring Jerusalem? You just might find yourself transFigure-ed. You just might find yourself hit with a heavy dose of the Jerusalem Syndrome. You just might find yourself believing you are indeed a character from the book of books such as Moses, Mary Magdalene or even the man of the hour, Jesus. You just might find yourself wandering through the streets of the undisputed heavyweight champ of all holy lands in nothing but your birthday suit, with feet so bare for fear of covering the wrong foot first, and a mission. A mission, not necessarily to spread the word of God, more a mission to be the word of God. And you just might find yourself in the custody of a witty Jerusalem PD detective and then being evaluated by a psychiatric doctor, who, try as he may to truly understand, he can never himself achieve that "oceanic" feeling of being swept up in the rapture of the holy.

    Lighting by Beth Turomsha.
    Company: Stillpoint Productions.
    Written by: Lear deBessonet and the ensemble.
    Directed by: Lear deBessonet.
    Cast: Nate Schenkkan, Erik A. Johnson, Bray Poor, Gian-Murray Gianino, Kate Enright, Megan Riordan, Ilia Dodd Loomis, Julie Kline.
    Production design by: Janine Marie McCabe.
    Art direction by: Janine Marie McCabe.
    Sound design by: Mark Huang.
    Set design by: Jenny Sawyers.
    Costumes by: Janine Marie McCabe.
    Lighting by Beth Turomsha.

    Related links: Official site
    Calvary Episcopal Church
    Park Avenue South at 21st Street (entrance on 21st)
    April 25 - May 4, 2003

    "transFigures" is the brainchild of Lear deBessonet and doesn't pretend to do anything but present this syndrome in a very artistic and creative way. There is no attempt to pass judgment on the sufferers of this syndrome or to declare or prove in any way the true existence of God through their experience.

    Great artists understand that there are two sides to every coin and deBessonet gleefully presents her coin flipping in fast and slow motion gleaming with the glow of the unknown and the unknowable, rising in action, falling in conclusion, yet never ceasing its spin nor the mischievous twinkle as each side catches the light. She doesn't mess around with making us guess what is going on, she just hits us with what it is and then proceeds to show us what it might be like if we ourselves could ever achieve that "oceanic" feeling. I do believe most of the full house on hand for this production was indeed swept up into deBessonet's mysterious sea.

    In the beginning of the play, we meet The aforementioned Jerusalem PD detective (Nate Schenkkan) and the Doc (Erik A. Johnson) who, along with a pleasant piped-in voice (Bray Poor), serve as a bit of a Greek chorus for the play. They spell out the syndrome for us and then we meet the players. There is Bill (Gian-Murray Gianino), a corporate exec, and his wife Susan (Kate Enright), a psychiatric doctor herself, who have picked Jerusalem as a nice place to spend their annual vacation. Susan picked this year, Bill picks where to go next year.

    We follow Bill to work, where we meet his nervously religious secretary Margaret (Megan Riordan), who promises not only to hold down the fort while he is away, but to pray for him daily as well. She seems to have the Syndrome without ever visiting Jerusalem. On the train to work, we meet Joshua (Ilia Dodd Loomis), a barefoot Jesus who was swept up with the Syndrome, evaluated by Susan, and now serves coffee at Starbucks. And lastly we meet Julie (Julie Kline), who later burns at the stake in her mind when she becomes Joan of Arc.

    This cast was credited with creating the piece based on, "the writing of Joan of Arc, Henrik Ibsen, Bash Dorin, Chuck Mee, interviews from Erin Sax's documentary 'The Jerusalem Syndrome,' Russell Shorto's 'Saints and Madmen,' and the Bible." Ms. deBessonet can go ahead and pat herself on the back for excellent casting. Each member of the cast understood equally the concept of give and take and all were incredibly dedicated to their roles. This was a very strong ensemble and a difficult one from which to pick any favorites or standout performances. The main story and its many subplots was told in an exciting manner by the cast, using dance, movement and acting in quite the expert way. When things were too heavy, we got some comedic relief. When things got too light, we were slapped with a dose of reality. The cathartic climax was breathtaking in its combination of performance, light, sound, delightful direction and the simple convention of shredded paper flying through the air.

    The production itself is a strong example of how to do vital and exciting theater on a shoestring budget. The team made excellent use of the space, a space that could be challenging for other companies, by seemingly using every nook and cranny available, even the sidewalk outside. Instead of presenting the play from the available stage, they decided to place the audience onstage and use the cavernous house as the stage. Great idea, and works very well. And who could ask for a better setting than the basement of a church?

    The lighting was designed and controlled very well by Beth Turomsha using fluorescent lights on poles, clip lights, and the occasional par can, all plugged into power strips gaff-taped to a small table in full view of the audience. The set brought to us by Jenny Sawyers was simple and extremely effective with the lights shining through its thin muslin-covered flats. The cast would move these flats about, changing scene and setting and even using them as sound effects. Janine Marie McCabe's costumes were fine and appropriate.

    What really made this production was the sound. The sound was truly amazing. This author cannot express in any flourish of words how truly wonderful and important to this production this sound design was. Kudos to Mark Huang. How lucky this production was to have him onboard. How lucky this audience was to hear his sound carry this show. How musician unions fear people like him who, with a handful of sources, a mixing board and sweet system of ample wattage shows that one person can do the work of many and in this case can do it better.

    This play is a gem. The audience on hand was swept away in an "oceanic" sweep of pure poetry, spectacle, performance, and direction. When there was ever a danger of a bit running too long and slow there was a sharp rise in action. When there was a danger of over-stimulation there was a sudden fall to let us catch our breath and gain control of our hearts, which were beating in a frenzy.

    This is a very short run. You should drop what you are doing and go see it. Lear deBessonet and company should continue to work this piece and allow it to grow and should continue to present it. Two weeks is simply not enough to see where this could go. And with this as it launching pad, it is foreseeable that "transFigures" could very well shoot into the heavens and celebrate the glory, the holy power of the ever-living temple to mankind that is the live theater.

    MAY 1, 2003

    Reader comments on transFigures:

  • Word of God   from Adam, May 2, 2003
  • Re: Word of God   from ponygirl, May 6, 2003
  • Re: Word of God   from Bart, May 6, 2003
  • Re: Word of God   from Effie, May 7, 2003
  • The Word of Dodd   from Me, May 7, 2003
  • erik johnson   from Jizabelle, Jul 20, 2005
  • do not subject yourself to this mess   from a, Apr 7, 2007

  • Post a comment on "transFigures"