Monday, September 24, 2012

Feeling Low: "High," at the Pantages Theatre, makes no apologies in tackling a seriously sobering subject


How do you define a nun?
In High, Kathleen Turner musters all of her considerable spunk into her role as Sister Jamison Connely, a completely un-stereotypical, recovering alcoholic-turned-nun who now works as a counselor at a Catholic youth detoxification center. Connely is one of the center’s best counselors, partially due to her no-bullshit-allowed attitude.
Connely’s supervisor, Father Michael (Timothy Altmeyer) sends an extremely troubled youth (who normally wouldn’t be allowed into the center, except that he happens to be Michael’s nephew) her way and cajoles her into treating him despite her misgivings. Cody (Evan Jonigkeit) proves even tougher to counsel than Connely anticipated, and their relationship is fraught with conflict. Despite their fights, they have an enormous impact on each other and continue to grow individually through their relationship’s term.
As a warning to anyone looking for a relaxing night at the theater: this is not a happy-ending play. This isn’t even a ‘have shining moments to redeem the sadness’ play. There is full frontal male nudity, drug highs and tweakouts, devastating confessionals and a veritable dwarf star’s worth of profanity. High is a balls to the walls depression soup, and it is impossible to find anything pleasant in this show.
But that doesn’t mean High isn’t worth watching or entertaining. Turner’s dry as twice burnt toast delivery lends a vitally necessary dark, droll humor to many of her lines, and the show is nothing if not ironically realistic. These comic moments make the show human and palatable, and the audience must cling to them if they are to leave even slightly unscathed.
It is refreshing, too, to see such an explicit show leave the happy ending impulse behind without a thought. Sometimes, people do bad things and never repent. Sometimes, those bad things are borne of other negative events. Sometimes, addicts don’t want to be cured – and there is nothing that a well-intentioned savior can do about that. High reminds all of us of these things, and does it without even a glance over the shoulder.
Turner is damn fun to watch, and one gets the sense that she rather enjoys leaving her bodacious cinema roles of the past behind her to play such a gutsy, straightforward character. Her delivery is excellent, despite some weaknesses in the writing, and while there are minor ways her performance may have been improved, she is more than worth the ticket price.
Her supporting cast is not as strong, but beats the script’s bloody message home with verve. Altmeyer is thoroughly convincing as a befuddled, misguided priest, and his moments of lucidity are High’s moral foundation. Jonigkeit alters between terrifyingly real episodes of drugged delusions and irritatingly whining conversation. I can’t decide if his delivery is more brilliant or undirected; whatever the case, his nude scene (and subsequent beating from Turner) is one of High’s best delivered moments.
High is in the Twin Cities for only a week, so any souls brave enough to bear the devastation it delivers should quickly snap up tickets. It’s an arduous ride, but for any disillusioned fans of films such as Fight Club or Boys Don’t Cry, it’s worth it.
+ High continues at the Pantages Theatre through Sunday, April 22. Learn more athennepintheatretrust.org.