True to its title, Miriam Jensen Hendrix’s play The Shroud explores the hazy enigmas of religious belief and politics as the faithful and faithless clash over the meaning of one of the Catholic Church’s important relics, the Shroud of Turin. Set in a cathedral in present-day Italy, the play challenges contemporary ideologies in light of the dual crises of crumbling church hierarchies and South American dictatorial governments.
Joe Moro (Marc Krinsky), a lieutenant of dying socialist revolutionary Hernando Gonchez (John Marino), seeks out Father Pensettiere (Peter Zazzali), the deputy of the Archbishop (Roy Bacon), with an unlikely request: can Gonchez see the sacred shroud, as urged by a voice in his dreams. The impudent Father is reluctant to comply, given the bureaucracy involved in unveiling the shroud and his hubristic feelings over cooperating with such dedicated foes of the church. But the Archbishop ironically identifies with the anti-Catholic rebel and paves the route to meet the potentially heretical request. What transpires is an escalating clash of two self-serving institutions: each indicts the other’s fallacious intentions of bettering humankind, climaxing in a deus ex machina (or, in this case, figure in the linen) encounter with the unknowable shroud.
Mounted on stage, The Shroud was marked by high production quality but hampered by an early draft of its text. The overwritten script, marred by an underdeveloped plot and limited characterization, is about mystery but lacks same. It rarely rises beyond presenting philosophies economically and asking the question, is or isn’t the shroud a holy relic? The two sets of ironically similar character foils eloquently present their opposing worldviews but infrequently have moments to play them out. In effect the play is a researched, but unrealized, blueprint.
Performances were strong throughout the cast. Of particular note was John Marino’s subtle and complex portrayal of the dying revolutionary, Hernando Gonchez, struggling between his lifelong atheistic socialism and his mortal fears and uncertainties about dreams and death. Perhaps most challenging were the portrayals of Father Pensettiere and Joe Moro, where character development was weakest.
The multi-layered set design (Gregory Tippit) captured both the ethereal qualities of faith and the unknown yet palpable layers of living history. Its avocado-shaped stone archways housed a startling number of well-executed scene changes. The costume design (Carlotta Kerwin) was eye-catching in its colors and contrasts of worlds, from the striking monochromatic hues of the Catholic hierarchy to the washed-out battle wear of the revolutionaries to the silvery suit of an opportunistic religious quack, Dennis Quick (Tod Mason). The sound design (Howard Harrison) captured the quixotic mixture of cultures that is entwined with Christianity. Was the Mediterranean pre-show music European or Middle-Eastern? Was the scene-change chanting ancient or modern? Direction (Keith Oncale) was able and deft but should have done more to play down the textual repetitions and play up the few embryonic dramatic moments.
The Shroud presented rigid ideas of faith-based Catholicism butted against science-based socialism much like the two halves of the set’s archways. And like those co-dependent stone arcs, the play is concrete and captivating but never breaks out of its rigid confines.
(Also featuring Veronica Cruz.)
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Copyright 2002 Adam Cooper