'An Almost Holy Picture' is almost satisfying

Earnest Rep Stage production can't disguise play's weaknesses

  • Michael Stebbins as Samuel Gentle in "An Almost Holy Picture."
Michael Stebbins as Samuel Gentle in "An Almost Holy Picture." (Stan Barouh, Baltimore…)
February 10, 2011|By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

Heather McDonald's "An Almost Holy Picture" addresses plenty of serious subjects — God, faith, mortality, responsibility, fear, redemption. Rep Stage has approached this one-actor vehicle with obvious conviction, but with perhaps too much reverence. The result is more labored than involving.

The play centers on Samuel Gentle, a minister-turned-groundskeeper who once heard a voice saying, "Follow me." He answers that call, only to confront tragedy in the form of a bus accident that claims the lives of several children.

That event haunts Samuel deeply, as does the birth of his daughter, Ariel, whose body is covered with fine golden hair as a result of a rare condition called lanugo. As the play unfolds, Samuel wrestles with memories and questions and holds on tightly to rituals and to his child.

McDonald's text has its poetic and touching moments, as when the groundskeeper describes parents at the bus accident scene disproving ''the romantic belief that tragedy binds people together.''

There are charming, even amusing moments along the way, too, but a lot of the lines miss their poetic mark, settling for cliche or heavy symbolism. It does not help that the Rep Stage production, directed by Tony Tsendeas, has such a somnolent air (even apart from the play's sleepwalking scenes).

Michael Stebbins gives an intense, assured performance as Samuel, but his deliberate vocal delivery only increases the heaviness of the material. So does his methodical way of moving through James Fouchard's Southwestern churchyard set, which is moodily lit by Jay Herzog and given sonic atmosphere from wind chimes and ominous rumbles.

Despite the admirable effort behind the staging, the result is an almost wholly disappointing theatrical experience.

"An Almost Holy Picture" runs through Feb. 20 at Howard Community College's Studio Theatre, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway. $12-$30. Call 443-518-1500 or go to repstage.org.

—Tim Smith

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