God bless the innocent

St. Hugo of Central Park

By Jeffrey Kindley
Directed by Bonnie Jones Reynolds
Spring Farm CARES
Urban Stages
Non-union production (closed)
Review by David Mackler

Jeffrey Kindley's St. Hugo of Central Park is a sweet fable that operates on several levels - an offbeat parable of the saintliness of the innocent as well as a tale of how tough it is for the innocent to survive in the big city. It was completely appropriate that the show was produced by Spring Farm CARES, a self-described "sanctuary for abused and unwanted domestic animals." Unsurprisingly, the play comes down on the side of the pure of heart, but darn it if Jeff Rubino, as Hugo, the innocent par excellence, didn't have the ingenuousness and openness of the saintly.

There was more to it than innocence and simplicity, though, and there was some wicked humor throughout. Hugo has been putting bombs in honeydew melons and rolling them into churches - for publicity, not for destruction. He gets sent to a reformatory, but his parents are so out of touch that Hugo is convinced his father thinks he was at Boy Scout Camp. The psychiatrists there need more help than the inmates - prayer and devotion can't help the patients because "God is not a professional!" one thunders. Well, he's promptly struck dead, and that offbeat tongue-in-cheek quality kept things light.

Hugo's innocence leads him into some predictable situations, but some smart writing and canny acting helped cover the lumps. Suzie (Zenna Monaghan) is a woman he sees across the way taking off her clothes - of course she's a hooker and seduces him, but she has a good monologue about selling the story of their encounter when he gets famous. Hugo's parents (Coky Humphries and John Faust) take it personally when he decides to sleep under the bushes in Central Park ("Kids are born to make their parents suffer!" Dad moans), but their own dysfunction is shown each time mother says father's name through gritted teeth and a strained smile.

Living in the park as caretaker to birds has its own drawbacks (Hugo comes in covered with bird droppings), but then the miracles start happening. A quibbling couple's focus changes when Hugo sets a pigeon's broken wing, and a blind photographer (yes, it's that kind of play) has his sight restored. The reporters show up, and it becomes a treatise on public relations; there's the episode with the smarmy Southern evangelist (Richard Enders), and a consultation with a particularly loopy doctor (David Podos); Hugo's parents want to cash in on his fame; Hollywood wants to star him as Jesus (Mohaghan was also good here as a Hollywood correspondent).

But even when the plot starts to fall apart dramatically (a visitation from God) or is at its most serious, there are delights like the choir that comes on to offer comic commentary (Helen Leonard, Sarah Ziegler, Elena Schilder, Nora Schilder). A surprisingly good musical number had the crowd anticipating Hugo's death (can't be a saint without being dead), but the play walks the fine line of sharp satire coexisting with real, heartfelt meaning.

The show was well-produced, with screens and chairs serving a multitude of purposes (set uncredited) and lighting (Chris Bond) that clearly showed the differences between outdoor, TV-studio, and penitentiary illumination. The costumes (by Bonnie Hubbell and the cast) had slightly exaggerated whimsical touches, like the pigeon droppings getting heavier in successive scenes).

Also with Jay Salsberg, Susan Nackley Mojave, Paul Herndon, Stephanie Leonard, Nicole Schilder, Stacey Washington, Peggy Sneath, Michele Torchia, and John Caponera as the voice of God.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2001 David Mackler