Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Reviews: HIGH Expectations, Disappointing Results

pixeltracker

Written by Matthew Lombardo; directed by Rob Ruggiero; set design, David Gallo; costume design, Jess Goldstein; lighting design, John Lasiter; sound design and original musical compositions, Vincent Oliveri; special makeup design, Joe Rossi

Cast in order of appearance:

Sister Jamison Connelly, Kathleen Turner; Father Michael Delpapp, Timothy Altmeyer; Cody Randall, Evan Jonigkeit

Performances:

Now through December 11, Cutler Majestic Theatre, 219 Tremont Street, Boston. Tickets $25-$95 available at 617-824-8000 or www.aestages.org.

There’s a lot of talk about the seductiveness of addiction in Matthew Lombardo’s muddled new play High, currently in Boston on the first leg of a recently announced (but unspecified) national tour. And that’s precisely the problem with this inert 12-step confessional masquerading as theater. It’s too much sermon and too little drama.

Powerhouse actress Kathleen Turner is reprising her short-lived Broadway role of the tough-talking, no-nonsense nun Sister Jamison Connelly, a recovering alcoholic who now lives and works at a Catholic drug rehabilitation center as a counselor and sponsor. But neither she nor her very fine co-star Evan Jonigkeit, also reprising his role as Cody Randall, the brain-fried and jittery 19-year-old gay prostitute street addict charged to her care, can breathe life into this 6-day Broadway flop that has arrived in town DOA.

It may have been a catharsis for Lombardo, a recovering meth addict drawn into drug use late in life by a former boyfriend, to pen a fictionalized account of his story for all to see. Unfortunately, no such catharsis occurs for the audience. Lombardo relies on rehab mantras and religious platitudes to hammer home his points about recovery and redemption. There are fleeting “lessons” about enabling, hitting rock bottom, embracing faith and finding acceptance. But rarely do his characters become more than mouthpieces for his “important” message.

Instead of creating and building dramatic tension through cat-and-mouse dialogue between Jamison, Cody, and Father Michael Delpapp (a one-dimensional and detached Timothy Altmeyer) who administers the rehab center, Lombardo kills whatever momentum there is by inserting extensive narrative monologues for Turner that “tell” rather than “show” her character’s backstory. 

What should be the most devastating revelations about Sister Jamison’s past transgressions and current motivations are delivered as bland exposition rather than as tortured self-discoveries or admissions. As a result, the play has no driving core or emotional climax, despite its harrowing subject matter and potential for true tragic impact.

There are glimmers of promise in High, especially when Sister Jamison and Cody are locked in battle for his sobriety. Turner tosses off expletives with great comic dexterity and confronts her subject with a seen-it-all impenetrability that brooks no favor or excuse. The wiry and wide-eyed Jonigkiet is a bundle of raw nerves and mental confusion, vulnerable, scared, defiant and hungry to put an end to his pain in any way that he can. Together they have the occasional opportunity to parry and thrust, striking nerves and slowly gaining each other’s trust and respect. But these moments go nowhere, cut short by lectures and axioms that are inserted like exclamation points.

Lombardo’s meandering and self-indulgent script and Rob Ruggiero’s uninspired and choppy direction will likely doom High to the same kind of brief run on tour that it had on Broadway. Perhaps the movie version reportedly optioned by director Mark Kohl will be stronger. Somehow, I have doubts.

PHOTOS by Lanny Nagler: Kathleen Turner as Sister Jamison Connelly; Kathleen Turner and Evan Jonigkeit as Cody Randall


Related Articles View More Boston Stories

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

From This Author Jan Nargi