Monday, September 23, 2019

"Immaculate Heart" by Freshwater Theatre at the Crane Theater

In their new original play Immaculate Heart, Freshwater Theatre thoughtfully explores issues surrounding faith (specifically, Catholicism) and sexuality (specifically, the last and often overlooked letter in the LGBTQIA alphabet - asexuality). Playwright Ruth Virkus has created a world and a situation that feels real and very human, and the three-person cast brings truth, vulnerability, and humanity to their roles. As a recovering Catholic, I'm familiar with the struggle between seeing the good that the church has done and the solace it is for so many people, and the many ways it falls short in the modern world with its intolerant and exclusionary doctrine. This play and its characters embody that struggle very well, as well as shed light on a lesser known aspect of the spectrum of sexuality.

Our main character Clare (Rachel Flynn) finds comfort in the church after the death of her mother, whom she cared for in the last years of her life. She works at the church and enjoys the sense of community there and her friendship with Father Paul (Scot Froelich). Clare is so nice that she won't even choose a favorite color, for fear of hurting the other colors' feelings, but doesn't have a lot of friends her own age. That changes when she meets Marina (Noë Tallen), a student in her knitting class. They soon develop a close friendship; Marina wants it to be more than that, Clare doesn't know what she wants. She's never been in a relationship or even pictured herself in one, and doesn't quite know what to do with Marina's feelings. She asks for Father Paul's advice, and you can guess how that goes. But eventually, with patience, compassion, and honesty, Clare and Marina are able to figure out a way forward together, and Clare discovers more about who she is, what she wants, and what her faith means to her. And maybe now she can stand up for herself a little more and declare her favorite color no matter the consequences!

Director Jimmy LeDuc brings out the humor and heart in the piece, balancing the brutally honest deep talks between the characters with lighter moments. The cast doesn't shy away from the uncomfortable discussions, going for it with an open-heartedness that makes us really feel for these characters.

The black box studio has been converted into such a realistic looking church that I had to fight the urge to genuflect when I entered (you can take the girl out of the Catholic church...). The wall hangings, the alter, the light shining through the stained glass windows, even the confessional in the corner all feel authentic. As do the costumes - Father Paul's collar, Marina's work uniform, Clare's self-described "fun grandma" look. All of this makes it really easy to imagine yourself in the world of this play. (Set and properties design by Abbie Krohn, lighting design by Ariel Leaf, costume design by Tracy Swenson.)

Immaculate Heart portrays a beautiful but atypical relationship, and a beautiful but atypical human. But really, what is typical these days? Our ideas of who we can be, whom and how we can love, are expanding every day. When religious institutions refuse to acknowledge that, refuse to acknowledge the beauty and value in the full spectrum of humanity, what do we do? Do we leave and find another place of worship that better suits our world view (like I did)? Or do we stay and face the well-meaning but ultimately hurtful Father Pauls of the world, hoping to change the institution, or at least the people in it, like Clare did? I sometimes think the latter is the braver and more beneficial choice.

Immaculate Heart continues through this weekend only at the Crane Theater in Northeast Minneapolis.