Sunday, 15 October 2017
Review The Busy World Is Hushed
Peter Barker discovers a place for belief and its challenges in an intriguing new play from across the Atlantic.
The Busy World Is Hushed
by Keith Bunin
Father, Son And Holy Ghostwriter
The Busy World is Hushed is a discursive three hander looking at parenthood and sexuality, as well as the significance of holy scripture in the 21st century.
Playwright Keith Bunin sets the play in the New York household of a single mother.
In this case, Hannah's part of a modern Manhattan Episcopalian priesthood and an academic about to embark on a book exploring the possibility and implications of a missing New Testament gospel.
She's hiring Brandt as an assistant, a kind of holy ghostwriter, but she's also preoccupied with her restless 20-something son, Thomas.
Both mother and son are haunted by the past, the sudden death of her husband when she was pregant with Thomas.
Her son has just returned from one of his habitual long absences in the New England wilderness, immediately hitting it off with Brandt.
Bunin's writing is intelligent and humane, intertwining theological debate with the domestic circumstances and the emotional undercurrents swirling around and motivating the characters. From this simple situation Bunin spins off a plethora of ideas.
Marc Turcich's set design, a study with its chaotically strewn bibles and Anglican works interpreting the holy texts, will be familiar to anyone who has entered a priest's study.
Director Paul Higgins keeps up the momentum throughout the play's 90 minutes by often drawing the characters on the stage into triangles of conflict.
Kazia Pelka is the believer Hannah who nevertheless maintains a healthy scepticism about the man-made nature of the bible as text, but still cannot fathom her husband's sudden death years before.
Mathew James's Thomas conveys the febrile nature of a young man, also seeking answers about his father, who enters into a relationship with his mother's new employee.
Meanwhile Mateo Oxley, as Brandt, is the writer who struggles to have any belief, especially with the impact of his father's serious illness. Oxley makes a convincing East Coast patrician, an urbane intellectual, both a lover and grieving son.
The two men's love affair is handled as a naturally occuring circumstance. However, sometimes a self-conscious effort to introduce conflict feels contrived and the attitudes and actions of the characters are skewed to suit the needs of the plot.
It's not perfect but it's an amber/green light for an absorbing drama in a well-performed production.