UNHOLY FINDS A PERFECT SETTING AT ZOOMERHALL
UNHOLY is a play about whether or not today’s women need religion. Primarily this is because most organized religions, dominated by men, have institutionalized virulent misogyny. These religions have mostly failed to promote women’s rights, causes, or aspirations. This is a controversial issue and therefore, ripe for dramatic conflict.
Playwright Diane Flacks is a serious thinker. She does her homework, creating characters that represent the different points of view. She conjures four women, placing them in the context of a TV debate panel, three who believe in God and one avowed atheist. The women are played by Barbara Gordon (an ex-nun), Niki Landau, an orthodox Jew, Bahareh Yaraghi (a Muslim), and Diane Flacks, a Jewish atheist. Blair Williams plays the male referee of the debate, posing questions and working to keep the debate upbeat.
This production of the work is ideally adapted for and staged in ZoomerHall, perfectly rigged for broadcasting and taping TV shows, in Liberty Village. In this incarnation of Unholy, the audience is actually part of the taping of this production.
The debate commences and the characters spar and verbal sparks fly. Flacks has fashioned characters who are more complex than mere mouthpieces for their various arguments. We get background on each woman. For example, Barbara Gordon plays a Catholic nun who was defrocked immediately after her male superiors discovered she had permitted a hospital abortion, in order to save the mother’s life. As the feisty ex-nun, she retains her Catholicism, and continues to fight the restrictions of her religion. As with all the women, we discover their private secrets during the debate, and off. We see what drives them to believe the things they do. We even look in on a behind-the-scenes lesbian affair.
The actors are all accomplished and turn in convincing performances. In Unholy, it becomes apparent that the intellectual arguments support each woman’s emotional needs. Whatever a person says they “believe” is really an explanation for what they require to fill the emptiness they all seem to share. The way each woman “interprets” the Bible or the Quran depends on what they need to support their beliefs.
On the surface, Unholy is a drama concerned with matters of the soul. But somehow, it doesn’t feel that way. While the central tension of the play rings true, the conflict between belief and practice, some intangible ingredient is missing. Perhaps spiritual matters are best revealed through more dramatic action , not through discussion or debate. The play is full of verbal pyrotechnics. Still, the heated exchanges contain little of the power and clarity of a simple parable. The work is clever, but lacks a certain resonance.
The only religions covered in Unholy are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, perhaps the most male-dominated and sexually repressive faiths around. In these male-ruled religions, women have traditionally played a minor role. To put this work in historical context, not all religions are as sin and guilt-ridden as the three “desert religions” described in Unholy. Watching the play makes one mindful of earlier pagan religions, populated by vibrant and powerful female gods. These include goddesses such as Artemis, Aphrodite, Athena, and Isis, the mother god of Egypt. Before Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, the pagan world was a landscape filled with marvellous deities, both male and female.
Adapting centuries-old dogma to fit the yearnings of 21st century women is a major task indeed. If one is passionate about religious beliefs, either pro or con, one should find this show engrossing.
Photos from ZoomerMedia website
Copyright by Burke Campbell. All rights reserved.