A battered screen door opens and a worn, no-nonsense Depression-era farm women enters, dragging the almost dead weight of her dying father-in-law to his rocking chair on the front porch, speaking as soothingly as she can to the man while barking orders at her equally frazzled husband. This dazzling display of dichotomized emotion, as performed with shimmering intensity by Jennifer McCabe, set the tone for Sacrifice to Eros, a nimble balancing act of conflicting emotions that only rarely stumbled over its own good intentions. Make no mistake about it, Fred Timm's gay-themed retelling of the Biblical parable of the prodigal son is as formulaic as the much-maligned "well-made play" can be, but within the confines of the formula Timm has written a lovely, thought-provoking piece about acceptance, shot through with detailed ambivalence, witty rue, and sentimental hope. As directed by Jeffrey Collins-Harper, the sense of time and place was beautifully rendered (simple but effectively detailed sets, costumes, and lighting by Collins-Harper, Steven Gustave and Bergin Michaels, and Spike, respectively), and if all the myriad conflicts inherent in or added to the original parable were tied up in pat resolutions with the swiftness that could only be achieved in the theatre, the journey the characters take from jealousy and ignorance to understanding and finally acceptance was nevertheless an emotionally satisfying one.
There was not one weak performance in the top-notch, racially mixed ensemble, but it must be noted that for a play in which the central roles are written for men, it was the two women in the cast who dominated the proceedings. As already mentioned, Jennifer McCabe, as Rita, the wife of one of the battling brothers, was superb, balancing the evening with an acerbic, well-timed, and rock-solid performance that managed to be hilariously funny and heartbreakingly empathetic, frequently at the same time. Carolee, as the requisite family lunatic, was also luminous, her performance resonating with the comic depth the late Eileen Heckart could bring to a role before living legend status turned her last performances into iconic star turns.
The one aspect of the production that might have been a slight miscalculation was the bluesy/jazzy score by Bill White. Used judiciously throughout the piece to underscore key moments, the musical idioms just did not evoke the '30s-era farm country Harper and crew worked so hard to create, and were a jarring note in an otherwise self-assured, elegant, and involving evening of theatre.
(Also featuring Robert Glenn Decker, Bergin Michaels, Frank Swingler, and Don Clark Williams.)
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Copyright 2002 Doug DeVita