The Busy World is Hushed Theatre Review - The Religious Psyche Unearthed


As a sort of hail to the slimly-populated perspicacious theatre-goers of Los Angeles, Keith Bunin’s play The Busy World is Hushed has traveled from a Playwright’s Horizon Off-Broadway run in New York to a slightly more modest home at the Meta Theatre on Melrose; here it is produced as the second production of the inchoate company Bright Eyes Productions, founded by producer Bill Hemmer.  Save for a radio reading given by L.A. Theatre Works, this migration marks the Los Angeles premiere.

Hannah( Judy Jean Berns), an Episcopalian minister and Bible scholar, is in need of a ghost writer of sorts for her next book, which will analyze the findings of a recently retrieved gospel that has gone thousands of years undiscovered.  After a successful interview, Brandt( Josh Mann) both manages to earn employment and catch a foreshadowing glimpse of  Hannah’s personal life through the frowzy entrance of her anything but tractable son, Thomas( Robert Hardin).  Thomas, a sophisticated lumpen and wanderer since birth has spent his life searching for something of constant interest, coming and going without warning and often leaving Hannah alone for months.  It seems his father committed suicide, in what Hannah colors as a drowning accident, before Thomas’ birth.  He has come home this time to go through his father’s personal belongings to discover some truth behind his past beyond the fanciful interpretations of his mother’s religiously induced tales.  Love sparks between Brandt and Thomas and in an attempt to ground her free-spirited son, Hannah incites Brandt into pursuing Thomas as a desperate grasp at holding onto him. 

left to right: Robert Hardin and Josh Mann

Bunin’s play is a wonderfully introspective exploration of the tumultuously archaic relationship between the human psyche and religion.  Hannah, a complexly charming woman, has ossified reality through her religion, using it as a crutch for the broken bones of her reality.  Dangerously intransigent about her beliefs, Hannah constantly uses both her seemingly limitless intelligence and her interpretations of scripture to twist the fragile realities of her son.  The deep complexity of character is what drives this beautiful piece.

The script is certainly less visceral than it is verbose, a condition that director Richard Kilroy seems to have too carefully respected.  The efficacy of this script is certainly in the words, however, this particular production lacks any true grounding with regard to its staging.  In my opinion this might as well have been another staged reading planted on a gorgeous set (designed, as it were, by Kilroy).  The scenes seemed too stationary and what little blocking existed seemed to do very little by way of serving the language.  This is certainly a choice that could work, however, it places an enormous pressure on the success of the actors to keep the life of the piece constantly swelling.  In this particular case, about thirty-three percent of the three person cast pulls through.

Such a grave and immeasurably distinct separation was there between the work of Judy Jean Berns and that of Robert Hardin and Josh Mann.  This production is almost entirely worth seeing based on the drastically inspirational work of Ms. Berns.  So vividly clear is it that she possesses all of the intelligence, comprehension and clarity to ignite the complexity of Hannah.  She is both graceful and dangerously manipulative, confident and captivatingly vulnerable; I spent most of act twos entrenched in the depth of Hannah’s universe.  On the other hand, Robert Hardin and Josh Mann leave much room for want from equally complex characters.  I found myself in constant doubt that either of these two possessed a true understanding of the richness of both Thomas and Brandt; Thomas, an ever-questioning intellect seemed more a lost frat boy, and Brandt, an emotionally desperate academic seemed unpersuadably one-toned.  

left to right: Josh Mann and Judy Jean Berns

Returning to an only briefly mentioned point above, the set truly was the best use of what could appear a limited space that I have ever seen.  Kilroy's construction is very meticulous and provides a rich playing space for the actors.  Sitting in the audience, I was absolutely drawn to the reality of the space.  Regardless of use, the aesthetics were marvelous. 

Ultimately, this is worth the watch.  Between the work of Judy Jean Berns and the penmenship of Keith Bunin, there is certainly sufficient motivation.  Regardless, I hope this marks the beginning of a long road for Bright Eyes Productions.  The passion is clearly there and the desire to unmask opulent works of intricate dimension is admirable. 

The Busy World is Hushed
opened November 14, 2008 and will run through December 14, 2008 @:

Meta Theatre
7801 Melrose Ave (across the street from Fairfax High School)
Hollywood, CA

Friday & Saturday @ 8pm, Sunday at 7pm

For reservations:
call: 323-960-5770

Photos by: Olivier Riquelme

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