Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Occupy London has camped outside one of the most famous, beloved and recognizable institutions in London. The doors were kept open through floods and the Blitz, but now a terrorist organization has closed this celebrated landmark. The play takes place on the morning of October 28th, 2011, when the down to earth Dean (Paul Whitworth) is anxious to resume worship, but the big issue is whether or not he should support the city in its plan to evict those who've set up their tents.
The London Financial Times put it nicely: "Waters draws from recent history a history play in which flesh-and-blood individuals, caught at a pivotal moment, struggle with fundamental question about what matters." The playwright makes the case that the cathedral's chapter house depends on collective responsibility and he consults with Lizzy (Sylvia Burboeck), the new personal assistant to the dean; the canon chancellor (Mike Ryan); the Bishop of London (J. Michael Flynn); the verger (Sharon Lockwood); and the city lawyer (Leontyne Mbele-Mbong). The main conflict is about the role of the church in the modern world and, for the dean, an unexperienced man thrust into the politically aware arena, it is about Christ's teaching and the safeguarding of ceremony. It is told in real time for 95 intriguing minutes with no intermission.
Director Tom Ross has assembled a talented class of actors in this production and his direction is impeccable. Paul Whitworth skillfully shows the anguish of the dean knowing the reaction to the "What would Jesus do?" question. Whitworth he races the through his dialogue at times, which makes him difficult to understand along with his British accent. Mike Ryan as the self-firing canon chancellor is splendid, with a clear voice allowing every word to be understood.
Leontyne Mbele-Mbong's performance is excellent and she adds some dynamism in her 10 minutes on stage as the silk-smooth city lawyer. Sharon Lockwood gives a first rate performance as the apprehensive verger. Sylvia Burboeck gives a charming performance as Lizzy, the new assistant. J. Michael Flynn is at his most smooth overbearingness as the bishop of London. He is pragmatic and he cheerfully urges conciliation with the Occupy London group. At the end of the production two little boys as choristers, Jack Wittmayer and Grady Walsh, perform a vocal work charmingly.
Richard Olmsted has designed the set to fit the three-sided stage, with a window on the back wall and pictures of past deans of St. Paul's. Sound designer Chris Houston captures noises from the crowd outside the cathedral.
Bottom Line: What's fascinating about this play is that it penetrates deeper and deeper into the dilemma of how to square Christian scruples with contemporary situations. I would suggest you read the program first to learn a bit about why in 2011 Occupy London did a sit-in in front of the cathedral.
Temple runs through May 14, 2017, at the Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley. Tickets can be obtained by calling 510-843-4822 or online at www.auroratheatre.org. Coming up next is Abi Morgan's Splendour which runs June 23 through July 23.