BWW Reviews: FINDING HUMAN And Accepting It
It comes as no surprise to the inhabitants of Madison that a play should arise, an original production no less, that holds a political charge. In a city so focused on the rumblings of politics or making a change, an artistic protest is nothing to shock the masses.
When the message outweighs the politics behind it, however, people pay attention.
Photographer turned playwright Dan Myers has done just that. This past weekend was the opening of a new piece of theatre at Broom Street Theater. Finding Human has made its way into a world that has plenty of opinions about what value a human life can hold - and the timing could not have been more perfect.
This drama focuses on the incarceration of the renowned "Priest Killer" James, his impeding execution, and (most importantly) his rationale behind murdering a priest. In an apparent nod to Hannibal Lector, James rebuffs all those who believe they know him with a sly smirk. This smirk was often accompanied by a quip, joke at another's expense, or replying with an unbecoming "because". With one week to live, James' cellmate Bill is tasked with having to extract information about the crime from James through the bribery of a cruel prison guard.
Bob Moore takes on the role of James with a stoicism that is needed for Myers' script. There is no denying that the content is heavy, particularly in the political climate at present, but Moore gives as much respect to the role as it wholeheartedly deserves. His often stony expression stands as a representation of the neutralization that overshadows the humanity of criminals. Moore's instincts lead him to bringing out more humanity in his character as the show goes on. This is seen in a few smiles, changes in his speech towards others, and even in fits of anger. James is introduced as the one dimensional inmate audiences expect before slowly becoming the human being that others often forget he is.
Sgt. McGovern, the hardened prison guard played by Kirk Baumbach, is the man who believes himself to be the righteous one of the four. Baumbach's overarching 'holier than thou' mentality is the perfect partner for Jim Chiolino's down to Earth Father Martin. The two open up different aspects of James' being. A sort of Mephistopheles and angel duo perched on the shoulders of both James and his cellmate Bill Shaw. An intriguing dichotomy created by Myers - as the angel (Father Martin) tries to make deals with James in order to save him from his fate and the devil (Sgt. McGovern) does the same with Bill. It's this human understanding of right and wrong that drives the show as a whole - and what makes it so mesmerizing as well.
Bill is the ultimate mirror companion for James. The two are confined together but hold entirely opposite
destinies from one another. Donnovan Moen's Bill already knows what it is to be human. He has a range of visible emotions which he displays to James from the start. Moen's clear sense of being in the moment keeps him firmly on the ground. His character could so easily be overacted, but Moen is able to remain levelheaded though he is dealing with an infuriating fellow prisoner.
Oftentimes an original production, particularly one with the magnitude of Finding Human has a difficultly with length. A show that hammers the point too much can be hard on an audience just as much as one that moves at a snail's pace. Myers' has taken neither road. The show moves at a fast enough clip that audiences get swept up in the messages. Characters are given their time to grow, but not expand into a diatribe of backstory. Though a couple of oddly placed phrases slip in, 'TMI' is an odd abbreviation for a middle aged man to say aloud, the script appears to have very few spots for improvement.
The value of human life, along with the cost of taking a life from another, is a hot button issue.
Every person will have their own opinions when walking into BST's production of Finding Human. Those opinions, however, hold no place in the realm of this show. Myers' original production is not about taking sides. It is about understanding what it means to be human. To hurt, to heal, to move on, and to accept the things you cannot change.
One can only hope that Myers' takes the advice written into James' dialogue, "if you have talent you should use it", and continue to bring powerful works to the Madison stages in shows to come.