theater (reviews)

review: holy crap

(We Couldn’t Call It What We Wanted To Call It, So We Called It) Holy Crap

By Iñigo Ramirez de Haro
Translated by Iñigo Ramirez de Haro and Ronald Rand
Directed by Erica Gould
Starring Stephen Mo Hanan
La MaMa First Floor Theatre, 74a East 4th Street
production web site:  http://lamama.org/first-floor-theatre/holy-crap/

April 28, 2011 — May 15, 2011

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
April 30, 2011

  • “his big, rough, hairy hand on my freckled pink little thigh”

Stephen Mo Hanan. Photo by Luigi Scorcia.

Press materials and social media provide background on the play’s 2004 raucous original reception in Spain.  Protests in the theatre and on the streets inspired by the subject matter — pedophilia and the Catholic Church, amid other social wrongs.  Playwright Iñigo Ramirez de Haro collaborates here with actor and playwright Ronald Rand to translate his original work and bring it to a New York audience in this production at La Mama.  American audiences accustomed to stories of misdeeds by some Catholic clergy will not be shocked by the primary revelation in this one man show, nor by initial images of storyteller seated on one of two toilets on stage, attempting to evacuate — an action meant literally and physically and conceptually and dramatically.  What should draw audiences to this show is the journey of the storytelling, the focus of this performer, the pace of the revelations, the poetry and power of the theatrical gifts presented here.

A moldy smelling and dim basement passage way is our route into the performance space, past a mopping “janitor”, into a room being swept by a muttering “cleaning lady”.  Set design by Stephen Doby includes covering seats with plastic sheeting the attendant removes upon request.  At one end of the room is a space marked with two by fours in a wall construction pattern (as if sheet rock were to be installed over them), and instead more plastic sheeting covers up, we are soon to see, layers of performance spaces that reflect deeper and deeper memories delivered by our host narrator over the hour of the performance  A middle-aged man (Stephen Mo Hanan) delivers memories of a pious child who is abused at home, taken advantage of at church, and who ultimately makes some personal and professional life decisions.  Monologues are delivered in the voices of that pious child, of a young man, and of the authority figures who caused him harm.

This play may reflect one man grappling with his own memories, his own demons, his own sense-making.  Or it could be one man reporting stories he has learned in the confessional.  At times in this particular production, the stilted delivery of a recalled past event which may seem third-person generic and a bit off-putting, but the cumulative effect is winning.  You could imagine these stories being told by the man as a vessel, or as this man telling his own stories of pain and perhaps redemption.  I found myself comparing my reactions to this production with my reactions to an adaptation (by Jeffrey Fiske and Max McLean) of C.S. Lewis‘s The Screwtape Letters that has toured the country over the past few years and I saw in Chicago in 2008.  That play based on Lewis’s novel follows a devil Screwtape and his secretary (wordless vermin-like Toadpipe) as they train an off-stage demon Wormwood to undermine Christian faith. It’s a diatribe with some verbal pyrotechnics and devil-y magic.  Holy Crap, on the other hand, is human scale (toilets and references to constipation make it relentlessly human scale from the first moments) and takes us on a journey through violation and pain to redemption and faith through fear.  The combination is potent in a way that Screwtape’s religious tirade can never be.  I am haunted by my basement experience with this work in translation.

© Martha Wade Steketee (May 2, 2011)

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