4/29/2013 8:43 AM
Sarah Ruhl’s use of historical accuracy, realistic characters and an overall humanness in her text make Passion Play absolutely wonderful. Making her way through three parts and three different time periods (late 16th century, era of Nazism, and a sort of present day), Ruhl finds a common thread in creating characters that may be representing holy characters in their own passion plays, but their personal lives send rifts in the portrayals of the biblical characters. Ruhl does it in such a way that each choice the character makes seems nothing but truthful.
Despite the heavy handed nature of Catholicism and historical events, Ruhl manages to sling a couple jokes and her overall quirky and imaginative voice into the script. With that voice comes smaller questions mixed with the theme of the passion plays. Abortion, homosexuality, anti-Antisemitism, post traumatic stress disorder; all of these are wound up into different character’s lives.
Even though the play is one Ruhl’s clearer pieces of work as far as connectivity of action, the length (235 pages and four acts) makes it seem a tad difficult to sit through or to stage. However, the story lines and messages carried through the work are more than enough to firmly hold the audience’s attention.
Ruhl knows exactly to bring out the real human emotion in her characters, even the ones ensconced in their beliefs of playing perfect versions of characters from the Bible. That humanism mixed with historical accuracy and just wonderful storytelling makes Passion Play one of Ruhl’s best.
5/8/2013 9:53 AM
Every time I read PASSION PLAY, I fall more in love with it, but grow more aware of its many flaws. It is an untidy experiment, a play to be solved.
At times, the scenes in PASSION PLAY are pure plot with too much subtextual possibility, giving directors an unfair responsibility. Some dialogue lacks the well of emotion underlying the text of other Ruhl plays like THE CLEAN HOUSE or LATE: A COWBOY SONG. P’s PTSD in Part 3 feels a bit contrived, and it feels lazy to discontinue to the gay motif for Part 3. Parts 1 and 3 both end with monologues from the Pontius character, and, despite magnificent language, they each feel like a cop-out.
But then there are moments so sublime that you remember why Vogel says that reading a Ruhl play is “a little akin to falling in love:” In Part 1, when Pontius asks Mary 1 to run away, and Mary 2 asks the same. In Part 2, the first and last scenes between Eric and the Footsoldier. And, in Part 3, when Queen Elizabeth reappears during P’s proposal. Terribly clever is how, as the setting moves closer to present day, the writing gets more naturalistic. For example, the prologues of each act: Part 1’s is Shakespearean. Part 2’s reads like a travel brochure. Part 3’s sounds like directions from a gas station employee.
Regardless of its weaknesses, the whole here amounts to way more than the sum of its parts. The play’s socio-political ideas, plus the visual world, the Village Idiot, the Elizabeth-Hitler-Reagan conceit, and the lush language create a stunning event. Specifically, Part Three’s anachronisms make for a thrilling conclusion, both satisfying and disjointed at once. This play is about small-town production values, making it easily producible, but it is challenging—as all powerful, provocative, progressive plays are.