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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 17, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 38
Muddled Rapture not rapturous
Arts & Entertainment
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Muddled Rapture not rapturous

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Rapture of the Deep
Balagan Theatre
Through September 25


Eric Lane Barnes is a tremendous musician and song composer, and has written wonderfully funny full-length productions starring the Seattle Men's Chorus 'pocket choir,' Captain Smartypants. He has launched into less charted waters with his production of Rapture of the Deep, now at Balagan Theatre. Be aware that 'rapture' refers to the Christian apocalyptic moment when 'believers' get to suddenly rise up to heaven, and non-believers are left standing on the earth to face & ? But the other meaning of the title has to do with the idea that when one is drowning, one's brain gets oxygen-deprived and confused, and apparently you feel somewhat rapturous - at least, that's what Jacques Cousteau said happens to deep-sea divers.

But what the entire production is really about is an apparently autobiographical look into Eric's relationship with an uncle, who died at age 11. Eric's mother - his uncle's older sister - was tremendously attached to her younger brother, Jimmy, and savored his memory. Eric seems to have become a kind of Jimmy substitute. Jimmy was not only a cherished younger brother, but he apparently had an unnaturally acute affinity for preaching (at least in this play).

The play's characters are Gus and his mother Wanda. Gus has a best friend, Bethany, who thinks she can exorcise uncle Jimmy through vaguely goth/Wiccan Google-found ceremonies, but is stopped by her ultra-Christian mother, Eileen. Eileen seduces Gus to come to her youth group meetings and ultimately to be baptized in the spirit, alienating Gus from Bethany.

Religion is a huge part of the play. There are songs, but they are not "musical theater" songs, since none of them actually move the story forward by way of singing about it. They may be original compositions by Barnes, but they are all Jesus-focused. There is no making-fun aspect of religion here. In fact, it's a somewhat serious attempt to try to figure out whether religion actually transcends and "saves."

It turns out that the most compelling character is not Gus, it's Bethany (Lauren Kottwitz). Bethany reveals how desperately addicted Eileen was to various means of feeling better before Eileen finds "God." Eileen (Alyssa Keene) also tells a story of attempted suicide and, not finding herself dead yet, how watching a televangelist saved her life. But how Bethany has to be mother to her mother is a very compelling and interesting story.

Though the other actors (Bobby Temple as Gus, Kris Mainz as Wanda, Dylan Zucati as Jimmy, and Gerard Gravellese and Sean Marlow as assorted other characters) do solid work at presenting what they're given, the story of Jimmy and Gus ends up soap-operaish and over-the-top, and also ends up avoiding a huge autobiographical element: Eric Lane Barnes is (contentedly, one should surmise) homosexual and in a committed Gay relationship as an adult. Yet, this life-changing aspect is nowhere to be dealt with in Gus' religious conversion, nor with his relationship with his mother, nor with his relationship with God. So, what we're to understand is the point is not at all clear.

It's rare that a brand-new play stays the way it's first presented, especially if it hasn't yet been through a full development process. Consider this a work-in-progress. For more information, go to www.balagantheatre.org or www.brownpapertickets.com or call 800-838-3006.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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