The Busy World Is Hushed

busyThe Busy World Is Hushed, being performed by Epic Theatre Company, is a thought-provoking and at times heartbreaking examination of faith and religion. The most remarkable quality of Keith Bunin’s play is its deft balance of comedy and drama in telling a story about tortured characters.

Hannah (Mary Paolino) is an Episcopalian minister who discovers an ancient gospel that she believes contains the “true words of Jesus.” When the play begins, Hannah hires a young writer named Brandt (Kevin Broccoli) to write a book chronicling the teachings of the gospel. Brandt tells Hannah his father is dying from a brain tumor and explains to Hannah that he isn’t sure if there really is a god. “Religion is a desperate attempt to make death more bearable,” he says.

One day, Hannah’s son Thomas (Stephen Peterson) shows up at the church, bloodied and bruised after hiking. Thomas is a troubled man who never healed after the traumatic death of his father. He travels the country like a vagabond and returns home occasionally to rifle through his father’s journals.

Brandt and Thomas soon discover a mutual attraction and fall in love, a situation Hannah encourages for her own selfish reasons. Meanwhile, Hannah and Thomas are at odds over her faith in God and his complete lack of faith in any type of religion, and the story takes many dramatic turns. The power of The Busy World Is Hushed comes from the conflict the characters have in trying to understand why a loving God could cause so much pain in their lives.

Paolino is convincing and deeply sympathetic as Hannah tries desperately to turn her son around. Broccoli displays a masterful sense of comic timing, and also excels in the dramatic moments. He is particularly effective when Brandt expresses his heartbreak late in the play. Peterson, making his debut on the Epic stage, more than holds his own working with Paolino and Broccoli. His character drives much of the conflict in the story.

The Busy World Is Hushed is a compelling entertainment and does what all great theater does: it stirs the heart, the mind and the soul.

The Busy World Is Hushed, performed by Epic Theatre Company. Through Nov 23 at The Artists’ Exchange, 50 Rolfe Square, Cranston. For tickets, go to artists-exchange.org/epictheatrecompany.html or call 401.490.9475.  

Ellemosynary: Love Isn’t Easy

Ellemosynary, now playing downstage at 2nd Story Theatre, is a one-act play about the relationships between the Westbrook women. Echo (Valerie Westgate) is a champion speller who adores her grandmother Dorothea (Isabel O’Donnell). Artemis (Sharon Carpentier) is Echo’s mother and Dorothea’s daughter.

Ellemosynary, which means charitable, is about women who try to be loving toward each other but sometimes come up short. The story is told in flashbacks, as Echo relates how she grew up under Dorothea’s influence. Dorothea was a “notable eccentric” who was interested in communicating with the dead and astral projection. When Echo was 12, she wanted to be “the greatest speller in history.” Meanwhile, Artemis tells of how she chafed under Dorothea’s control, which was so unbearable she fled the country after suffering a tragedy. Artemis is neurotic but highly intelligent. She loves Echo but doesn’t know how to be a real mother to her. The interactions between the women are alternately sad and humorous.

Playwright Lee Blessing knows how to write sharp, witty dialogue as well as how to create deeply textured characters. Echo experiences a lot of confusion and pain after being abandoned by Artemis. This is expressed in an overwhelming desire to win the National Spelling Bee. Echo berates a fellow contestant and spells out a series of words in a fury.

The performances are uniformly excellent. Westgate, who previously starred as Joan of Arc in Saint Joan, brings the right amount of charm and vulnerability to Echo. Carpentier makes the audience understand Artemis’ character flaws and gains our sympathy. O’Donnell gets a lot of laughs as Dorothea imagines seeing historical figures and quips about her views of life.

The set design is spare. The word ‘ellemosynary’ is spelled out in block letters on a wall. There is no furniture on the stage. The characters are on a multi-level platform where they share their memories.

Relationships are a lot like life, the play says: sometimes awkward, sometimes joyful, and sometimes unforgiving. Love isn’t easy, but it’s worth reaching for.

Ellemosynary runs through November 23. 2nd Story Theatre, 28 Market Street, Warren. 401-247-4200

This Veterans Day, Don’t Thank a Veteran

In thinking back on the days of Easy Company, I’m treasuring my remark to a grandson who asked, “Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?”

“No,” I answered, “but I served in a company of heroes.”

-Mike Ranney

Easy Company, 506th, 101st Airborne WWII

This Veterans Day, 96 years to the day since the WWI armistice was signed, the American combat veteran is in a status unprecedented throughout our nation’s history. Once the holiday of our fathers and grandfathers, a decade of sustained global warfare has swelled the ranks of those Americans who can say they too went to a foreign land prepared to fight, and to die. The U.S. combat veteran is your neighbor, your mailman, your doctor, your town constable, your homeless disabled transient, your friends and family and that buddy from high school. They responded to a call for action ignored by most. They volunteered to absorb a litany of horrors, and face the smoke-obscured deadly hydra of terrorism with bravery in their souls and love for their brothers and sisters at their side. The beast stared into them daily for days, weeks, months, years, and they stared back with a grin and defiant middle finger while America invented reality tv and cultivated a ridiculous obsession with pumpkin spice.

Learning our lessons from Vietnam, the unpopularity of the War on Terror and subsequent Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom did not lead to mass ostracization of our heroes as they returned home from a hell you could never imagine. Enshrined in our righteous post 9/11 fury, the American troop became focus of both pride and unwarranted pity. Yet, for all our flag waving and back thumping, we fail our veterans every day.

I have covered at large the epidemic of veteran suicide plaguing our nation, and the broken system that spawned it. We have discussed before, dear readers, the skyrocketing rates of vicious prescription medicine abuse cycles being thrust upon these warriors by a smiling doctor with a gleaming Support our Troops sticker on the back bumper of his car. You and I read of veterans dying while waiting to be seen at VA hospitals. Corruption, bureaucracy and a network of raging indifference has cut down many a warrior who survived traversing the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now, an evil arises in the east. The beast has grown a new head in the form of an insane terrorist organization hell bent on turning the region back into the Middle Ages. Again, tens of thousands of my brothers and sisters keep a wary eye on the news, praying for the word to come down that it’s time to switch the machine back on, time to grease the wheels of a juggernaut of power and destruction unknown throughout the entire course of human history. Again, politicians are wringing their hands and spewing half truths and fallacies. Again, most Americans could not care less but for the 5 minutes of thought they devote on the topic upon glancing at a headline on social media. Again, our military industrial complex holds its breath, waiting for word that the registers will soon again be flush with cash. And again, the veterans from the last war whisper warnings in the ears of all to no avail, warnings of lessons learned the hard way in the streets of Iraq and hills of Afghanistan. Just as every war that ends is supposedly the war to end all wars, ever will this cycle continue for the next millennia, as it has done for the previous two.

This Veterans Day, do not thank a veteran. Though well-intentioned, that platitude is as much of a dismissal as it is a pleasantry. Instead ask him how he is doing. Ask her what made her join the military; I guarantee you will be surprised at the very wide range of responses to that one. Ask them about a funny story they have from deployment, for it is just as much about fraternity and the hijinks that ensue from the collective boredom that comes when you drop a large group of American youth in a foreign country with little to do other than win a war. Ask him what he thinks of the current situation; he may surprise you with his insight. Support politicians who fight for cannabis reform to expand access to medical marijuana to veterans suffering and dying from PTSD and grievous bodily injury. Volunteer at your local Soldier’s Home or V.A. hospital. Treat them with the respect they have sweat and bled for, the respect not to be treated like some damaged goods for your empathy.

This Veterans Day remember war veterans make up our numbers in America more than they have in generations. We are proud of our service, we love our country and we want nothing more than to ensure that all the sacrifices made by our fallen brethren were not only appreciated, but not in vain.

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest to children ardent for some desperate glory the old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori

-Lt. Wilfred Owen, British Army WWI

Puzzling Pieces




This weekend saw the opening of a very puzzling art exhibit at the Machines with Magnets studio in Pawtucket. Part bar, part performance space, part gallery and part recording studio, Machines with Magnets could be a called a puzzling environment on its own. In the gallery section of the space, you can now view recent work by Umberto Crenca. Crenca, the founder of Providence-based arts organization AS220, is known in the community as a champion of the arts and an advocate for unjuried art exhibitions. In his own work, he’s known for his use of art as social commentary. This show displays a recent part of his puzzle piece series, a decades-long endeavor that encompasses about 135 pieces created by Crenca. Not literally puzzle pieces – although those make some appearances – this series is really an exploration, in two dimensions, of social and political topics that intrigue, frustrate, or simply puzzle the artist.

“Some of them are saying something pretty clear,” says Crenca, “and if others seem ambiguous, well, they might be. Some of them certainly approach issues I’m a little confused about, and that probably comes across – I hope it does.”

The show is titled “Puzzled: Ode (Owed) to Channing?” and includes a large blow-up of Crenca’s first review, decades ago, by Providence Journal critic Channing Gray. Crenca credits the sometimes scathing review with inciting the creation of AS220 and a deeper dedication by Crenca to his own work. (see a TED talk on the subject here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=tD-T4LIddtE )

Compositionally, some of the work is striking, some deliberately off-balance or disturbing. All of it is visually and mentally intense – the sort of work you want to get up close to, to examine the details and numerous levels of meta-reference.

“That’s Gaddafi’s severed head. The Black liquid is oil, the red is blood. I think that one’s pretty straightforward,” says Crenca, contrasting two of the pieces. “This one, though, takes a lot of explaining. I’m sure there are things in here that only mean something to me,” he says, rattling off a list of authors whose thoughts are represented in various abstract ways. Oh, and the numbers of the Fibonacci sequence are carefully scattered about that canvas as well.

Some pieces feature tiny thought bubbles, on others you’ll find referential figures tucked in the corners. One piece includes a lot of glitter. Figuring out each theme can feel like assembling a puzzle in your mind.

While the puzzle analogy has numerous applications to this collection of work – from pun to metaphor – it also seems like the artist may be hoping that someday, the collection as a whole will fit together like the pieces of a puzzle, granting insight into the conceptual and emotional makeup of the artist, complete with contradiction, confusion and clarity.

A series of  pieces and one very large work are on display from now until April 27th at Machines with Magnets, 400 Main St. Pawtucket, RI – www.machineswithmagnets.com