Theatre Mirror Reviews - "St. John The Divine in Iowa"

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"Saint John the Divine in Iowa"

Reviewed by Sheila Barth

Talented Lyralen Kay tackles a tough issue - seeing ourselves and our interactions with others - in her stage adaptation and performance of her original screenplay, “Saint John the Divine in Iowa,” appearing with her company, Another Country Productions Inc., through March 18 at Boston Playwrights Theatre.

Kay’s main character is the Rev. Alexander, a besieged, progressive Episcopalian priest known for taking unpopular stands, such as gay marriage, in her conservative Evansdale, Iowa congregation, in March 2011. She questions her own convictions when her pretty, formerly heterosexual/bisexual daughter Sarah, home for a visit from California, publicly comes out of the closet and asks her mother to officiate her marriage to her unorthodox female lover, Alex.

In the play (and authentically), Iowans earlier approved gay marriage, but that door was rapidly closing as the state Legislature reconsidered whether to repeal it.

The Rev. Alexander, religious leader at St. John’s Episcopal Church, believes in love for all, as Jesus preached. Her unpopular sermons, week after week, pound in that message - love thy neighbor. love each other, follow the Golden Rule.

As Vestry members decide whether to impose a vote of no confidence on her, the mother-priest faces a personal crisis - accepting her own pulpit messages. Kay and Co. incorporate her effective Meisner Technique of acting, in which the actors spontaneously respond to each other with increased intensity and realism, pulling the audience into their inner and interactive pathos, while outer forces gnaw at them.

Although Director Julia Short capitalizes on the strengths of her main characters and the plot, she languishes on lesser characters and details. Set designer Jeff Kubiatowicz effectively uses three sections of the small stage, enabling lighting designer Greg Jutkiewicz to spotlight on a scene, then shift to another, maintaining the action’s fluidity.

Lyralen Kay is controlled yet conflicted as Reverend Alex. Conferring with her subconscious, gentle, barefoot, modern, black male Jesus (Joan Mejia), Rev. Alex delivers her sermons with a modulated tone that’s, filled with conviction - the way she handles everything. Her affable husband, Charlie (Alan Dary) lends support and open-mindedness, but feels ineffective and unneeded. He’s a tireless fulcrum between Rev. Alex, Sarah (Caitlin Berger) and polyamorous lover Alex, (Meghan Rice).

Rice’s mannerisms, unorthodox hairstyle, tattoos, male clothing, and likable, Sean Penn bad-boy, “cool cat” persona as Alex sharply contrast Sarah’s feminine, Midwestern personality. “She’s nice - just a little rough around the edges,”says Charlie.

Unfortunately, Rachel Fisher-Parkman as parishioner and longtime supportive friend, Frances, flatly delivers the same, few tired lines - the Vestry wants to meet immediately with Reverend Alex. And Judy Sclarsky is colorless as the androgynous stranger at a gay bar, who supports and admires Rev. Alex, and officiates Sarah’s home wedding.

BOX INFO: Two-act play appearing through March 18 at the Boston Playwrights Theatre, Odyssey Theater, 949 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, Thursday-Saturday, and Wednesday, March 14, at 8 p.m.; also Saturday, Sunday at 3 p.m. Premium seats, $30; general admission, $25; seniors with ID, $23; students with ID, $21. Call 866-811-4111 or visit

"Photograph 51" (9 February - 4 March)
@ Central Square Theatre, 450 Massachuetts Avenue, CAMBRIDGE MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide