A week before Easter, Stone Church on Davenport just west of Yonge was offering the play Close by Romeo Ciolfi. The play is an adaption of the Crucifixion Gospel put into a contemporary setting. Close has many symmetries including the layout of the stage, clever matched lighting, criminals gone wrong by conviction and desperation, and a savior that suspects but does not know his role – but rather accepts it.
The play’s story is told in part on the two screens as video visions, then dreams, and finally hallucinations. This works effectively like the songs which introduce flashbacks. The seats at the back of the stage have all the actors present throughout the play and they come forth as players at their appointed times and place – this suggest a Greek Morality play which is next door to its roots.
The story is a simple parable told by Matty or Madeline the youngest of Family who have lost two members to crime and jail and the wrong side of Morality. Matty as a result has become tired and listless and dreams strange video scenes in a forest of possibilities. An elder sister, successful in acting has been called to rescue her kin. A doctor and healer has also been called to help not just Matty but also the errant members of the family. His mixed success leads to a transformed sequence of events – almost like the Resurrection in the Gospel. Strange events are moving forward as the two children become the the thieves crucified on Good Friday and the healer becomes the willing sacrifice – all witnessed by Matty and her mother and others like a scene taken from the Gospels.
Gnostic Gospel believers will like the play because the character of Matty suggests Mary Magdalene as witness to Christ. Mary Magdalene’s teachings, part of the gnostic gospels that were discovered at Nag Hammadi, says that God is always Close to us – and that we have to discover that part of God that is in each one of us. It is a radical turn of idea – rather than being constantly supplicant to the Lord and Master for aid and succor, each of us needs to discover not just the divine within one’s self but also in one’s friends and neighbors. It is truly a charitable mission; not easily done and not necessarily rewarded as expected/anticipated. The closing scene suggests this:
The Doctor/Healer awaits/embraces his Fate
The staging of the play is really quite compelling. The stage is set and lighted with dualistic symmetry. The two screens are used very effectively with pre-filmed dream and hallucination sequences. The actors stream to and from chairs at the center-back of the stage. The lighting focuses with dark and light like space and empty-space in graphics design to focus in and out on characters and scenes. As play-goers one is compelled to look at Close in a different light or perspective. Mission effectively accomplished.
Close is a weekend-only production of Studio Speranza, so I was surprised how how well actors were able to get into their characters – with some modulation required. Stone Church’s layout worked very well for the setting and staging providing a broad intimacy. Finally, the staging and production along with players deserved the kudos and applause received. Despite a numbing flu and orbiting eye, it was a night well received.