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Before I walked into the Drake for Inis Nua’s A Holy Show, the last pre-pandemic, in-person play I saw was a slight two-person comedy. I remember leaving the theater feeling dissatisfied. I smugly complained that my time had been wasted. What did that play have to say that was worthy of my time? I was offended at having to sit through something “cute.”
I think back to that because, on the surface, A Holy Show (my first live, scripted drama in 18 months) is not substantially different from the aforementioned show. It’s a two-person comedy, bordering on cute, whose takeaway message is “be kind.” However, propelled by the charisma of its actors, Liam Mulshine and Rachel Brodeur, A Holy Show positively overflows with warmth and good humor.
The fact that this show gives off a certain warm, fuzzy feeling is surprising given its grim subject matter. Irish playwright Janet Moran tells the true story of the hijacking of Aer Lingus flight 164. On May 2, 1981, an Australian former monk named Laurence Downey hijacked a London-bound flight from Dublin in order to reroute to Tehran. Downey, after expulsion from his order, was attempting to get the attention of the Pope, whom Downey demanded reveal the third secret of Our Lady of Fátima (an apparition of the Virgin Mary believed to have appeared to shepherd girls in 1917 Portugal). The plane landed at Le Touquet airport in France, where French forces spent eight hours in a stand-off with Downey. Eventually, the former monk surrendered and there were no casualties.
Under Tom Reing’s direction, Mulshine and Brodeur swiftly and masterfully alternate between 20 characters, including Our Lady of Fátima herself. The actors wear a simple shirt and trouser combination (designed by Eleni Delopoulos) for almost all of the show, so they differentiate each character with just their bodies and their voices (as I have come to expect, Inis Nua’s dialect work, coached by Leonard Kelly, is superb). Complementing the costumes, Marie Laster’s clever, minimal set provides just enough for the actors to make the world their own.
The play opens with Mulshine and Brodeur giving a pre-boarding speech (as the two flight attendants) and then alternating between all of the characters in order to introduce the audience to them, their voices, and their postures. This proves invaluable as we begin to familiarize ourselves with the dynamic world of flight 164.
The passengers themselves include nervous newlyweds, a hotshot business man and his assistant, a world-weary atheist, a young woman flying to join a convent, and Laurence Downey himself. The standout moments go to a pair of grandmothers going to visit their new grandchild. While these characters do traffic in some stock characterization, the whole production is so charming that it seldom matters. The minor storylines of these characters, the small victories and tragedies that occur on this flight, create the grace notes and dissonance for this script to come to life.
So, you won’t hear me complaining about the brisk hour I spent smiling at the Louis Bluver Theater at the Drake. After 18 months, I am ready for a nice story well told.
What, When, Where
A Holy Show. By Janet Moran, directed by Tom Reing. $15-$30. Through October 24, 2021, at the Louis Bluver Theater at the Drake, 302 S. Hicks Street, Philadelphia. (215) 454-9776 or inisnuatheatre.org
Proof of Covid-19 vaccination is required for all performances of A Holy Show, and all audiences are required to wear a face mask in the building.
The Louis Bluver Theater at the Drake requires no steps to enter or reach the auditorium. Three single-use restrooms are available in the lobby. Please note accessibility requirements when reserving your tickets.
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