By Carol Carpenter; Directed by Joan Kane
Produced by MTWorks
Off Off Broadway, New Play
Runs Through 10.25.14
The Theater at The 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street
by Linda Buchwald on 10.14.14
Deanna McGovern, Dino Petrera, Kathleen O'Neill, David Stallings, and Carol Hickey in Sweet, Sweet Spirit. Photo by Shelly Feldman.
BOTTOM LINE: Carol Carpenter creates believable characters in her play about a hate crime committed by a father against his own son.
At the start of Texas-set Sweet, Sweet Spirit, Jimmy (Gary Hilborn) arrives at his mother Nanna Jo's (Kathleen O'Neill) house, visibly shaken up. He confesses to her that he beat his own son Tyler into a coma after finding him in bed with a man. Jimmy, a lawyer, knows he's going to prison and believes he deserves that fate. Already, the play is surprising. Jimmy could easily be a one-dimensional villain, and what he did is absolutely horrible, of course, but Carpenter allows the audience to see his remorse.
Before the cops arrive to arrest him, Jimmy tells Nanna Jo that he wants his sister Jennifer (Carol Hickey) to raise 15 year-old Tyler. She lives in a big city, where Tyler would be more likely to be accepted than in Nanna Jo's small, religious town. Jimmy doesn't think his wife Suzanne (Deanna McGovern) is fit to be a single parent because of her drinking problem. It's interesting that although Jimmy is not comfortable with his son's sexual orientation, he also seems to accept it, whereas Nanna Jo won't even say the word gay.
From there, the action moves to the hospital, where Dino Petrera, who plays Tyler, does an admirable job of staying completely still in a hospital bed (the set is designed by David Goldstein). Debates about who should raise Tyler continue. Carpenter's characters are flawed, but well-meaning, so there are no easy answers for the audience. Suzanne got pregnant when she was 15 (Jimmy was 22) and though her clothes are trashy (Rachel Dozier-Ezell's glittery costumes for her are perfect), she is smart, especially when it comes to investing, and she clearly loves her son, as do Nanna Jo and Jennifer. The one false note is that Jimmy beat up a gay classmate in high school, Kendall (David Stallings), who recently moved back to town and is Tyler's choir teacher. Kendall was in a coma on the same hospital floor, and the parallels are just a bit too convenient.
Plays can raise awareness, but can't change the world alone, so it's nice that Sweet, Sweet Spirit is making a difference in other ways. Each week the production will raise funds for a different organization. During previews the money went to True Colors Fund (working to end LGBT youth homelessness), this week it is going to PFLAG (the nation's largest family and ally organization), and the last week will benefit The Trevor Project (provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth).
(Sweet, Sweet Spirit plays at the The Theater at The 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street, through October 25, 2014. Performances are Wednesdays through Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 3PM and 8PM; and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $18 ($15 for students, $12 for seniors) and are available online or in person at the theater half an hour before the performance. For more info visit http://www.mtworks.org/sweetsweetspirit.)