Presented by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre & the Boston University College of Fine Arts School of Theatre
Written by Andrew Joseph Clarke
Directed by Stephen Pick
Review by Travis Manni
(Boston, MA) The holidays are a good time of year to be surrounded by family. Holidays are also a good time of year to be reminded how much you hate being surrounded by family. Family reunions of any kind can be awkward, but provide the perfect landscape for tension to explode and for secrets to be revealed. And a hospital waiting room is where playwright Andrew Joseph Clarke decided to explore this dynamic in Faithless.
As the family matriarch lies unconscious in a hospital room, her three children, middle-aged and estranged from one another, discuss what to do in the neighboring waiting room. Maureen (Maureen Keiler) stands by her Catholic faith, believing God will wake her, and that their mom would want to proceed with a risky surgery. Patty (Christine Power) wants to make her comfortable until she inevitably passes, as her angsty daughter, Sam (Abby Knipp), paces around uncertainly, waiting to stir the pot. Meanwhile, estranged brother Skip (Greg Maraio) returns to see his mother after disappearing for ten years, revealing secrets about why he’s been absent for so long.
Emotions in this show feel raw and natural. Anybody in the audience is able to identify with at least one of the characters. Keiler as the religious voice is confident in her faith, but was able to portray the transition from Maureen’s initial rigidness to her softer acceptance of reality. Power as a levelheaded divorcee was patient, a good mediator but struggling to see anyone’s perspective but her own, and perfectly capturing the challenge of motherhood. Knipp as hipster-type Sam was the nice combination of unabashed curiosity and unfiltered honesty that only an adolescent can possess. Rounding out the cast, Maraio as the distant brother felt uncertain but charismatic, unwilling to allow the audience to feel comfortable for too long and eventually able to win both siblings back over. There were so many complexities among each character, but their dualities made them compelling.
The use of silence as a means to elevate tension and emotion, while giving the audience small breaks in between scenes, was phenomenal. Moments lasted so long it became like an ache waiting for someone to speak, but it was the perfect opportunity to take a breath and learn, with the characters, to be patient.
That said, my biggest struggle with Faithless is that the structure of its emotional landscape felt irresponsible. There were so many different pieces to each person’s story being revealed that I wondered if it was fair to throw so many at the audience, sometimes for the sake of inciting a reaction. While I felt drawn into the stories because I related to them, whether they be the familial obligation to pursue religion or the themes of sexuality tied with the fear of alienation, I was also aware that some of the themes were clichéd and unoriginal, not providing any new perspective, to the point where I wondered if the show bordered on emotionally manipulative.
Faithless is a good reminder that no family is perfect and provides an honest look into what the truly devastating responsibility of death in the hands of humans can look like. It’s about a family reuniting to heal old wounds and open new ones. It shows that honesty is painful but a universal truth that can teach even the most fractured relationship how to mend.
Faithless runs for 1 hour with no intermission. To purchase tickets, click here. Bring tissues.