Sometimes a writer bursts with an idea so compelling it’s irresistible—a play about Everyman in Everytown, about Faith and Love and Community. It’s Big, it’s Serious, it’s Deep. Why, oh why, doesn’t someone talk her out of it?
Barbara Wiechmann’s The Holy Mother of Hadley New York (Ohio Theatre) has ambitions up the wazoo. It also huffs and puffs under an overliterate text, a stilted performance style, a confusing assemblage of characters, and an unconvincing story line.
Agnes La Voie, reeling after the death of her baby, reveals to the small town of Hadley that the Virgin Mary has visited her and will appear again at Arvid Gurney’s gas station. Well, you just wouldn’t believe how this incites the folks. Arguments about faith break out at breakfast tables and marriage beds—all pretty much the same debate tiresomely repeated. Women have dreams; men make confessions. On the appointed day, the whole town gathers to await the visitation.
The text drones pseudo-poetically. A vagrant narrates a Dylan Thomas-esque paean to his town; posed groups of locals build choruses out of snatches of dialogue; citizens deliver long, meant-to-be-lyrical soliloquies. The town seems manufactured rather than portrayed. Rachel Dickstein, who directs this New Georges production, buys into Wiechmann’s failed profundity with affected speech and movement that rarely varies its reverent pitch.
A wealth of talent has been lavished on Holy Mother—including many fine actors (Maria Striar and Nicole Halmos, among them) and Sarah Edkins’s imaginative dollhouse set. A few scenes—usually the naturalistic, one-on-one vignettes—spring to life and even evoke a laugh or two. But Wiechmann shortchanges the basic underpinnings of character and plot—especially of protagonists Agnes and her spouse. Without them, the ending merely baffles, and her many souls get lost along the way.