Trina Fisher, Kelsey Thompson, & Shannon Woolley Allison in As It Is In Heaven.
Photo-Looking for Lilith
As It Is In Heaven
By Arlene Hutton
Directed by Kathi E. B. Ellis
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
I came into the theatre expecting this play about Shaker women in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky to be a serious and thoughtful piece, and it was. But I was surprised how funny it was. In one of the first scenes, the women, modestly dressed in ankle length dresses and bonnets covering their heads, sit facing each other to confess their most recent sins out loud. It is a pious, ritualistic moment made humorous by the quaint and innocuous sins: moral infractions of such small consequence, that they cannot help but prompt laughter from a modern audience.
Eventually playwright Arlene Hutton will get down to more serious themes of faith, sacrifice, and hallucinatory religious ecstasy. But by establishing character, relationship, and the dynamic of the Shaker community in the early 1800’s through such light-hearted interaction, she immediately establishes empathy, deeply humanizing people that could be very easily marginalized as members of a cult. If the word sounds too strong, the separation from society and the devotion to an idea that crumbled, makes it not inappropriate. As the narrative develops, we learn some of the individual stories of the trauma and heartbreak these women have endured, often by men, in their lives previous to joining the Shaker community.
The action is interwoven with Shaker hymns sung by the company, and shot through with ritualistic movement that reinforces the spiritual and communal connections between these women. The performance of the cast is a sterling example of the ensemble: Shannon Woolley Allison, Trina Fischer, Ebony Nolana Jordan, Jill Marie Schierbaum, Brittany Scott, April Singer, Karole Spangler, Kelsey Thompson, Olivia Thompson, Jane Embry Watts were all very fine indeed. Still, there is some focus given to certain characters, and the actors who inhabited then stood out. Olivia Thompson did well by the youngest in the group, a girl names Izzy left with the community by her father when she was only 3 years old. Kelsey Thompson (no relation) is Sister Fanny, who experiences charismatic visions that a vital part of the story. These scenes are hallucinatory and feverish in their intensity, and Ms. Thompson handles them with discipline that walks the razor’s edge of credibility and folly. Best of all was Jane Embry Watts, a new face in Louisville who renders the slightly subversive Sister Polly with an unforced naturalism and wry authority that makes for a memorable introduction to Louisville audiences.
As It Is In Heaven is as true a sampling of the Looking for Lilith mission and aesthetic as you will encounter, well-defined in purpose without being preachy, and executed with great professional skill, intelligence and depth of feeling.
As It Is In Heaven
February 26, 27, 28, March 2*, 5, 6, 7 @ 7:30pm
March 7 @ 2:00pm
$18 for adults, $15 for students and seniors.
*Community Night – all tickets $10.
Groups of ten or more are $12 per ticket. Must call for group reservations.
INFO & RESERVATIONS: 502.638.2559
Looking For Lilith
At Bellarmine University
Black Box Theatre
Wyatt Center For The Arts (off Norris Ave.)
2001 Newburg Road
Louisville, KY 40205
[box_light]Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at the Louisville Visual Art Association during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.[/box_light]