On Tuesday, we saw writer Matthew Lombardo’s autobiographical play, High. This play is certainly the Rep’s hottest ticket this season. It is billed as a world premier and features the movie actress Kathleen Turner. This three actor play revolves around the combative relationship of drug counselor, Sister Jamison Connolly, played by Turner and a 19 year-old drug user named Cody that she is charged with treating. High explores the themes of truth, forgiveness, redemption and human fallibility. The play’s themes and their treatments are mature, under 18 years of age is not allowed in the audience.
High is a star vehicle and Kathleen Turner is at the wheel. As Sister Jamie, she isn’t some crusty old Mother Superior; there are no wimples, nor any bursting into song. She is an aggressive, foul-mouthed model of arrogance. Her famously husky voice has now descended near the bass-baritone range. She relishes the sound of her own profane voice and uses it as a weapon to hold her audience hostage for the play’s entire two-hour duration.
In addition to language, High also features nudity. Stoned again, Cody attempts to assault Sister Jamie. It has been many years since nudity has appeared upon the Rep’s stage. The last occurrence was in Madame M. The Rep is shown at the Loretto-Hilton, on the campus of Webster University. Webster was once run by the Sisters of Loretto and they still hold sway there. By all accounts, Madame M created such uproar that the Rep eventually launched their Off Ramp series, for “those kind of plays”. High with its strong Catholic and religious overtones must have been exempted from any such prohibitions.
Violence permeates High. Not violence on stage, even Cody’s attempted assault is shutdown before it can begin, but the violence that has permeated the lives of the characters in High. This play’s rap sheet is stupendous both in its length and in its breath. I counted multiple cases of murder, rape, pedophilia, prostitution, drug abuse and the list goes on, almost to, no beyond, the limits of credulity. This is the failing of High and its self-described drug addict writer. Maybe these crimes are as common as described, but sitting in an audience of gray-haired doctors and lawyers they seem simply unbelievable, unconvincing.
All in all, I liked the play. Turner’s star power won the day and made the play, but I have a bone to pick with the Reps’ artistic director, Steven Woolf. Maybe in the theater business, “world premier” is like extra virgin is to the olive oil industry; both are first, but only by degree. Before High premiered in Saint Louis, it first premiered in Hartford and Cincinnati, but Mr. Woolf continues to represent his show as the world premier, and not just the last stop of this off to Broadway play’s extra virgin tour.
Cast: Kathleen Turner (Sister Jamison Connelly), Michael Berresse (Father Michael Delpapp), Evan Jonigkeit (Cody Randall)
OBTW, Happy Birthday, Jay!