This theatrical season has brought us Mormons and Nuns and now Shakers. Blessed be the ones who can sit through “As It Is In Heaven” now instructing at the Cherry Lane Studio which is not a production of the Cherry Lane Theatre but a production of 3Graces Theater Co. which has more than 3 graces gracing its staff.
In this ninety minute without intermission look into the lives of nine Shaker women circa 1838 Kentucky we get to know their daily routine. They would sing, self-confess, plant, cook, weave, quilt, eat, discuss NOT gossip, pray and talk of the hens and the bull that terrorizes the laundry and of the eyes and beards of the Shaker men folk who lived apart from them as they all led celibate lives. “As it is in Heaven” is more documentary than drama.
We never see a man and that might have been where some drama could have been provided. As it is, the nine women are dressed alike and it’s hard to distinguish personalities as the Shaker religion taught them to think alike – giving up their ego for the community. A few of the women seem to be unhappy with this policy – particularly the younger ones.
Polly (DeWanda Wise) a former prostitute who has a gift for drawing and passes out small pictures that she has seen through their departed founder Sister Anne and gives to the other women. And Fanny (Megan Tusing) who claims to see Angels. And the youngest Izzy (Rachel Cantor) – naïve and wanting to learn how to make a Jacob ‘s ladder out of string. It is she that we get to know the best and Ms. Cantor gives a heartwarming and touching performance wondering what is out there beyond the meadow yet longing to stay with her fellow sisters and not be sent back to her father.
Hannah (Margot Avery) is the Elder of the group. She wants everything plain and simple. No embellishments. A strict adherence to the codes that have been established. But it takes a long time for some conflict to erupt – rather sizzle as she interrogates the girls to see if they are truly seeing Angels.
Unfortunately, the times we live in and especially since the end of the world was predicted for the day I saw the play, when mention is made that the world is ending an unwanted laugh came from some members of the audience that were truly insensitive to the actors and what playwright Arlene Hutton was trying to get across.
The set is plain and simple. Dark walls with some pine benches a couple of chairs and baskets and a row of illuminated hooks. Lighting Designer Joshua Scherr has done a marvelous job as has Musical Director Phillip Bettencourt with a capella songs and hymns that punctuate the action.
This serious and static play is difficult to direct and Ludovica Villar-Hauser has done her best to differentiate the characters that tend to blend together and to mine some humor into the piece which is its tenth anniversary production. First being presented right after the 2001 World Trade Center disaster. The program notes that there are only three living Shaker adherents still practicing the religion.
www.threegracestheater.org Tickets $18.00 Photo: Rick Berube
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