It pains me to watch a good cast, good set, and good venue fall under the weight of a heavily saturated, emotional, cliche-ridden script. Merle Good’s The Preacher and the Shrink, playing at The Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row, was a two act look at God, delusions, love, and the throws of anger and grief; and the play was little more than a line up of sob and fight scenes.
Constance Hunter (played by Adria Vitlar) is in therapist, Dr. Alexandra Bloomfield’s (played by a graceful Dee Hoty) office giving us exposition on why she’s back in her home town and how scared she is about the possibility of breast cancer that killed her mother eight years ago. Constance, or Connie as she’s called in the play, is then roped in to a meeting with her father, Dr. Michael Hamilton (Tom Galantich), whom she has been estranged with since the death of her mother. In the first of many knock-down-drag-out fight scenes Connie tells her father (who also happens to be a very important pastor and pillar of the community) that his prodigy and close friend Reverend David Wheeler (Mat Hostetler) touched her sexually.
Whether or not Rev. Wheeler touched Connie in an inappropriate way is left to the audience to decide; an interesting story device. The acting is impeccable as Galantich plays a very tortured Preacher who must choose whom to believe: his friend and prodigy or his estranged daughter. Unfortunately, it seems that the only way to tell the tale of the burdened Dr. Hamilton is to have each character meet and fight and/or cry, which gets old very quickly.
In an effort to help the ripped apart family, Dr. Bloomfield steps in and uncovers a forgotten connection with Dr. Hamilton which compromises her ability to legally help either side of the conflict. Dee Hoty is beautiful to watch on stage, her presence and authority clear and believable in the face of the crumbling relationship between father and daughter.
The only way to save the town and the reputation of Rev. Wheeler is if Dr. Hamilton will agree to give a sermon in which he denounces his faith in god, whom Connie blames for the death of her mother and therefore: all her woes. The tough part for me was that Connie becomes such an unlikeable character, demanding and angry, that I felt there was no happy ending or compromise no matter what happens. And, as each fight scene parades into the next, I felt like I was in a well acted, badly scripted, pen-ultimate season finale for a soap opera.
Steve Richardson (Nicholas Urda) is the sole embodiment of the church community, being a father of a son with leukemia, who looks up to Dr. Hamilton for guidance and strength. His role is so small and so unaffected by all that is going on with the scandal that I wondered what his character’s point even was: to make Michael Hamilton feel even worse about whatever decision he needs to make in the end? Did we need more of that?
The Preacher and the Shrink takes on the grief a family must overcome in the face of a terrible death, the unwavering faith a person may have in god and friends, and the power of anger to destroy relationships. What was lacking was a look at the better side of life, maybe a few lighter moments, perhaps? A reason to like Constance Hunter? A play full of anger and sobbing makes me feel numb at the end, and quite honestly, ready to leave to go grab an ice cream and talk about anything else.
THE PREACHER AND THE SHRINK Written by: Merle Good, Directed by: Steven Yuhasz
WITH: Tom Galantich (Dr. Michael Hamilton); Mat Hostetler (Rev. David Wheeler); Dee Hoty (Dr. Alexandra Bloomfield); Nicholas Urda (Steve Richardson); Adria Vitlar (Constance Hunter).
Set Design by: Brian Prather, Lighting Design by: Kirk Bookman, Costume Design by: Carol Sherry, Sound Design by: Patrick Weaver
The Preacher and the Shrink is playing at The Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, located at: 410 W. 42nd street, NYC.
Tickets are from $73.75; Runs from November 15- January 4, 2014.