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.