by Rosalind Friedman
Kathleen Turner’s appearance as Sister Jamie Connelly in HIGH, a new play at the tiny Hartford Theater Works, is exciting and attracting a large audience. The adulation is well-deserved; she has earned her many credits in film and on Broadway, and shows in the first few minutes that her wonderful deep resonant voice is a fine instrument. The other two members of the cast, Michael Berresse as the competent Father Michael, who holds many secrets, and Evan Jonigkeit, his words slurred, his eyelids heavy with the horrors he has seen, cheeks sunken in, very thin and gaunt as drug-addicted teenager Cody Randall, are excellent in their roles. Directed by Rob Ruggiero, the production runs smoothly.
Matthew Lombardo, the playwright, recently made his Broadway debut with Looped, starring Valerie Harper as Tallulah Bankhead. And is also the author of Tea at Five, starring Kate Mulgrew as Katherine Hepburn. These two plays concern themselves with very strong women, who were great successes with distinct and quirky behavior.
High, somewhat autobiographical, is really no exception. But in this case, Sister Jamie is not famous; instead she is a plain clothes nun, and a recovering alcoholic who has lived a rebellious, immoral life from the time she was a child. Furthermore, she curses like a truck driver- probably an outmoded simile, because today so many in all walks of life use expletives in every day conversation. When Father Mike assigns her the task of turning Cody’s life around, she protests. Cody, who is a homosexual, has been found in a coma in a motel room with a dead 14 year old boy and she does not feel she can handle this. But he will not let her out of the job.
Through a series of scenes, Sister Jamie finds out that Cody never knew his father and his mother is a drug –user, prostitute, and led Cody into this life at the tender age of 7.
It is evident that he does not want to be saved, either medically or religiously. In one shocking scene, drugged, he strips off his clothes and attacks Sister Jamie. From a professional point of view, this should have changed the direction of the play. A counselor is obligated to report this kind of behavior. But here it does not happen. Instead, Jamie offers prayer to Cody as an answer. On the other hand we learn that Jamie came from a comfortable, well-educated family. The tragedy of her life is that her beautiful younger sister, Theresa, was raped and killed by a guy Jamie brought into their house.
The first act of High captures our interest; as in Looped, the second act flat-lines. It is a sad, desperate telling of a story with no dramatic arc. Father Mike admits he is Cody’s uncle and relates a convoluted story of how he has followed him. Cody admits he was responsible for the boy’s death and commits suicide. Unfortunately, we hardly care. His character does not have any positives going for it.