Hope Held ‘HIGH’

Sister Jamison Connolly (Kathleen Turner) and Cody Randall (Evan Jonigkeit) in HIGH, Photo credit: Lanny Nagler

High by Matthew Lombardo, Broadway National Tour, Cutler Majestic Theatre,

12/7/11-12/11/11,  http://www.highonbroadway.com/about.html.  Male nudity, mature language and themes

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

(Boston, MA)  

“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.”  Madeleine L’Engle

How do we find strength and salvation in the middle of pain and suffering?   Everyone tries to hide from pain and many people try to protect others from the experience, but the inevitability of life is that human beings get hurt.  We try to breathe and “be strong”–to not let anyone see that we are falling apart.  What if we all admitted that we are not perfect–that there isn’t even one person out there that could be categorized by society’s standards as “normal”?  High offers no escape from that darkness that lies inside of all of us and calls us to either face our flaws or recede further into our own shame.

Kathleen Turner is the audacious Sister Jamison Connelly who receives orders from Father Michael Delpapp (Timothy Altmeyer) to counsel a drug addict.  Sister Jamison objects to treating someone who does not appear to want help but agrees out of duty.  When Cody (Evan Jonigkeit) arrives, he proves Sister Jamison right by being evasive and combative and seemingly apathetic to life in general.  Despite this, one of the benefits of being placed under the sister’s counsel is that the sister is far from a saint; Jamison Connelly lives as a recovering alcoholic and also keeps swearing as her one vice of release.  She also does not dress in the nun’s habit, which makes her more human.  Cody pushes her, but she pushes back and tries to help him to find away out from under the weight of his addiction, shame, and guilt–realizing that the course would bring up her own demons.  Father Mike will not allow Connelley to turn Cody over to the state even when she tells Mike that the case is too severe and the boy needs stricter confines.  She discovers that Mike’s reticence to send Cody away has more to do with personal obligation than with what is in the best interest of Cody; Cody is Father Mike’s nephew.

The actors fill the characters with beautifully humanity that brings even the stylistic parts of the play into a reality of the heart.  Evan Jonigkeit fully embodies Cody Randall struggling to survive when he feels like he is already dead.  When his character is high Jonigkeit’s performance draws up recollections of the raw nature of Ewan McGregor’s performance in Trainspotting.  Yet, underneath the miscreation, Joningkett reveals the child who was a victim of horrible circumstances who didn’t know how to or where to cry for help.  Jonigkeit allows Cody to tentatively trust Sister Jamison, to feel betrayed, and yet on some level know that she truly cared about him.

As Father Michael Delpapp, Timothy Altmeyer has the difficult role of being both an authority and an enabler.  Altmeyer allows Father Mike to struggle between his responsibilities as administrator and spiritual leader and the man whose sister died of a drug overdose.  He allows Father Mike to be haunted by the guilt of ignoring his sister and to be controlled by the guilt by always cleaning up after Cody.  Mike believes if Cody can simply be closely watched that Cody will be saved;  Sister Connelley knows better.

I’ll fully admit that Kathleen Turner was one of the women I looked to when I was younger as a role model.  I liked the fact that it seemed no man truly posed a threat to her and if she wanted to she could beat up anyone who stood in her way.  I needed that to survive.  As a “grown-up”, I am elated to see Kathleen Turner as Sister Jamison Connelley.  Turner endows her character with no-nonsense brashness, but she also adds qualities that transport her from simply being a strong super-woman to being a beautifully messed-up, determined, yet still strong woman.  Since the inception of the women’s rights movement, we have always to some extent been afraid of our “womanliness”.  Don’t be too emotional; don’t show any weakness; don’t allow anyone to see the softness and vulnerability underneath.  What we are finding out more and more, though, is that our strength comes not only from being able to be “tough as nails” but also from allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and to embrace the perceived flaws; we’re learning that strength comes from being true to who we are regardless of preconceived notions.  Kathleen Turner shows that the strength of Sister Jamison Connelley comes from her vulnerability and openness.  Furthermore, female or male, it shows us what we should be striving for as human beings–to be who we truly are.

Matthew Lombardo’s High does not provide answers or judgement; it reminds us of our own frailties and pain.  High shows us that when we stop trying to hide behind walls of perceived strength, we can finally stand in the strength of our weakness; sometimes we need to have the courage to fall apart.




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