Sunday, December 8, 2013

God’s Gypsy: St. Teresa of Avila by Coco Blignaut. A World Premiere

Developed at the Actors Studio in collaboration with the novelist, Bárbara Mujica, the world premiere of “God’s Gypsy” by Coco Blignaut continues at The Lillian.   It seems that for this reviewer, the tragedy of the Catholic Church has been immediate for quite some time now.  Another plug for Judi Dench’s Philomena is appropriate, as well as Fionnuala Kenny’s Elvis’s Toenail in Toluca Lake.  To top that off as I sat down to write this review, I turned on the TV for company and happened across an episode of Sally Field as Sister Bertrill in The Flying Nun!

The best thing about Ms Blignaut’s play is the amazing score composed and executed by the talented Lili Haydn.  For those who have not heard the story of St. Teresa of Avila, it speaks to the essence of ecstasy.  Ms Haydn’s Entre Act approaches and reaches the ecstatic, lifting the audience literally to heights seldom experienced.  Though over amped and with some difficulty with additional recorded playback, Haydn’s violin and voice, her very presence: long dark hair, eyes closed, contemporary black lace, ethereal and ephemeral … filled the room with expectation. 
Lily Haydn composer / musician

Director Joel Daavid’s set with appropriate lights by Leigh Allen heighten our anticipation.  Costumes by Michael Mullen are professional and expensive.  And, then, Ms Blignaut’s account of the life of Teresa, the Spanish Jew, begins.  Playwright Blignaut has cast herself as Teresa, the woman who saw Christ and communed with him, bringing literally hundreds of young women to take the veil in service to their Lord.  In 1525 Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella began to expel all non-Catholics from the land.  As the power of the Spanish Inquisition exploded, the idea that a woman could speak directly to God was heresy.  Not having read Ms Mujica’s novel, it’s unclear as to how accurate Blignaut’s version of the story might be. Suffice it to say that it is long.

The hypocrisy of how Catholic priests may have taken advantage of the faithful is a story that has continued certainly for the past five hundred years. Father Braulio (Daniel DeWeldon) has exploited Sister Angelica (Tsulan Cooper) and in the confessional does so blatantly. 

The play is slow moving, ponderous and seldom well acted (even an actual nun in the row in front of me nodded off from time to time). With modern colloquialisms, “Wow!”  “You have no idea.” dialogue is interlaced with occasional Spanish, “Gracias,” with no attempt at Spanish accents. Sundry acting styles (bombastic, sincere, loud, quiet, intense, wooden) made the evening even longer. Cantor, Pat Satcher, beautifully intoned a prayer for the dead as Teresa was laid out in the final scene.

And, so we come full circle:  a literally ecstatic prologue of violin and voice, an overlong narrative with brutal rapes, torture and souvenir taking, with gorgeous costumes (the royalty, not the habits) to a finale of Ms Haydn’s live performance after the curtain call, holding cast as well as the audience spell bound.  

A photo of Bernini’s exquisite statue of St.Teresa created a century after the life of the nun graces the program and posters.  Indeed, the sculptor seems to have found in marble what is illusive for most of us: a divine moment that passes understanding.  Would that the evening might have been played in pantomime with Ms Haydn’s voice and violin the singular testament to Teresa.

GOD'S GYPSY by Coco Blignaut
The Lillian Theatre 
Opened Saturday, November 30   
Plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m
Sunday at 6 p.m. through January 12 
(dark December 26-29).  
Tickets $30 
Call (866) 811-4111 or go to
The Lillian Theatre
1076 Lillian Way
Hollywood, CA  (1½ blocks west of Vine).

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