As It Is In Heaven
Annie Russle Theater, Winter Park FL
Written by Arlene Hutton
Directed by Beth Links
by Carl F. Gauze
When you live with the holiest of holy people, confessing your sins is tough. You may have to scrape the barrel with “I teased the cat.” Or “I laughed at the chickens.” Or more likely, you might come up with a really good hallucination. In the old days, visions of Jesus were favorites, although anonymous angels are always popular. Blame visions on boredom or mental illness or more likely ergot fungus in your grain. On this minimalist stage we learn the innermost details of nine women’s lives; they all live a celibate life, and grow their own food. These Quaker communities were a haven in an age with little or no social services – starving in a ditch was a real option in those desperate days.
Hanna leads the community, and her rules carry the same weight as a good passage from the Bible. Some of the girls hallucinate visions of angels, taking up singing songs instead of working, and worst of all: they have taken to the sin of looking at men. It’s more a defense against boredom than any evil thoughts. Hanna fights back, but ultimately must call in outside help. Most painfully, one their members must be expelled, and the circle completes when freezing in a ditch returns as a life choice.
The set here is a gem of minimalism. A pitched stage helps highlight the women in the back row, and a few chairs and cubes make all the settings we need from the scullery to the wicked woods infested with potential spirits. The plainsong music makes no flourishes, and this could easily be a radio play with no loss of impact. All the music comes form traditional Shaker songs sung a capella. The choices offered to these women are stark: we love you, but we brook no individualism, and like the Old Testament. Rules are rules and not subject to negotiation. The sparse beauty of the story seems fitting for this sparse audience, and the takeaway shows us our lowly position in front of God and Disease.
It will still be quite some time before anyone stages a big brassy musical anywhere in town. Enjoy the Quaker simplicity in the meantime.