GOOD FAITH, 1940-1990 written, composed and directed by Harold
Dean James, is a musical drama of good intentions, betrayal and misplaced
devotion among Jehovah's Witnesses.
is based on a true story of the life of Richard Rawe, a native of Soap
Lake, WA, a city about 200 miles east of Seattle. Rawe was an elder of
the Jehovah's Witness faith and with his wife, Frances, was "disfellowshipped"
based on false allegations from a corrupt faction of rival ministers.
Frances, however, secretly tape-recorded the deliberations of the usurpers,
who were actually guilty of both embezzlement and sexual harassment of
congregants. The Rawes were subsequently reinstated, then again disfellowshipped
as the scandal shook the Spokane Valley during the last decade.
Harold Dean James, who grew up as a Jehovah's Witness (his family is still
in the faith), picked up the story on the Internet. Compelled by it, he
traveled to Soap Lake and interviewed the Rawes for this play.
Good Faith" tells, in parable-like form, the story of Young Rawe
enrolling in a religious congregation after being incited by a certain
Brother Meek that the experience will help him "discover that light
at the end of the tunnel everybody speaks about." Young Rawe is charged
of sharing "that glorious good news" with every lost soul living
in (the purposely symbolic-named) "Sheep City." But after experiencing
success and fullness as a newly-wed congregation leader, Young Rawe has
to cope with what seems to be Evil, embodied in Brothers Reap and Sow,
both of whom were designated by their religious hierarchy to help him
in organizing the community. Brother Reap declares he will take care of
the women while Brother Sow proclaims himself in charge of the money.
This inevitably brings them into conflict with Young Rawe's faithful devotion
to the community.
The whole play revolves around the matter of religious commitment. On
the one hand, serving God amounts to serving His people. This raises a
fussy question: does faith remain good if it leads to insulation, suffering
and deceit, or if it does not protect believers from those pains? This
is certainly not a new dilemma, but Harold Dean James seems to bring a
newly sensible viewpoint, making his fable a highly relevant and meaningful
comment on the intricate notions of religious fate and faith.
It is James'
first musical. Previously, his only stage compositions were songs for
his own play, "What Happened to Me?" He claims the melodies
come to him in dreams, and he wakes up and records them. The score of
"The Good Faith, 1940-1990" is simple, melodic, highly rhythmic
and written for the pop voice.
is Christa Victoria, whose work has recently specialized in choral works.
Live accompaniment will be by a keyboardist and percussionist. Movement
is choreographed by Guillermo (D. D.) Resto, a twenty-year veteran of
the Mark Morris dance company. "The Good Faith" will be acted
by Paul Albe, Jamie Leigh Allen, Jason Blaine, Daniel Clymer, Erika Dionisio,
Linus Gelber, Grant Machan, Joe Matheson, Gheree O'Bannon, Rachel Ponce,
Christiane Szabo, Christa Victoria, and Cezar Williams.
James was an actor for "umpteen years," appearing in Broadway's
"Mastergate," Bill Irwin's "Largely New York" at City
Center and in a multitude of Off-Broadway and Shakespeare productions.
Also a videographer, he collaborated for 12 years with Dennis Diamond
and employed video amply in his earliest theater productions. "First
Kill" (La MaMa, 1999), written and performed by Frank Damico (1999),
was his first production directing another writer's work. James was raised
in Alameda, CA and studied theater at San Francesco State, but lists as
his theatrical mentors Uta Hagen and Earle Hyman.
plays have been distinguished by his unusual use of technical effects
to expand the concept of the stage space. His La MaMa productions include
"X Train" (1994), "Dance Card" (1996), "Call
Backs" (1998) and "What Happened to Me" (2000). "X
Train" was a subway trip with special video effects that unraveled
into a "Twilight Zone haze" (Hannaham, Village Voice). The realities
and feelings of a middle-class Black man's dark past were juxtaposed with
beatific video fantasies such as sudden friendship among the commuters,
meeting a dream lover, being rescued by aliens and the train's "submarining"
through the East River. In "Call Backs," a woman scorned at
summer theater auditions wreaked a "Twilight Zone" revenge on
the producers by gunning them down in revenge for their crudeness. Through
stage effects, including innovative use of scrims, they spent the rest
of the play gaping at their bodies from a netherworld while they were
mocked in a series of outrageous monologues.
"Dance Card," the surprise killing of her husband caused a woman
painter to have an intriguing series of changes in her life and perceptions
over a two-year period. The production contained surprising and eerie
exchanges of identity as the killer entered and re-entered the artist's
life in different forms, and the experience, manifest in her paintings,
was illustrated in the production by Dali-esque and Picasso-esque paintings
by a surrealist artist, Wayne Kral. With "What Happened To Me,"
James commented provocatively on fate and destiny by taking the life of
a homeless "everyman" and making it interchangeable with a variety
of other characters, including a successful businessman, scholars, cowboys
and religious zealots. Video screens displayed testimonials on the man's
life by people who were involved in it.
reviewed by Kevin Connell
November 23, 2003
The Good Faith, written, composed, and directed by Harold Dean James,
is a musical with good intentions, but fails as a palpable experience
in the theatre. This musical (the first that James has written) is
based on the true story of Richard Rawe, a native of Soap Lake, Washington.
As the musical unfolds, we discover that Rawe is an elder of the Jehovah’s
Witness Church who, with his wife, Frances, is “disfellowshipped”
based on false allegations from a corrupt faction of rival ministers.
Frances, however, secretly tape-records the deliberations of the usurpers
who are actually guilty of both embezzlement and sexual harassment
of congregants. The Rawes are subsequently reinstated, then again
disfellowshipped, indefinitely and without explanation.
This could be an interesting and provocative story to dissect theatrically
considering the complexities and varied opinions surrounding organized
religion, but unfortunately The Good Faith reveals nothing more
than a fragmented plot line. I missed the point-of-view behind this
piece. Is it pro or con Jehovah’s Witness? As I left the theatre,
I concluded that it had an anti-JW slant, but half the piece seemed
to be nothing more than religious propaganda, which confused me.
I wanted less of a commercial for religion and more of the story
of Richard Rawe.
James’ writing never goes deeper than the play's exposition—it
never illuminates why he was inspired to write in the first place.
Lines such as “Well, jeepers ‘course not,” and
“I have a lot of sheep to find,” seem comically right
out of an episode of Leave it to Beaver. His musical score includes
several ballads that are pretty to listen to, but have lyrics that
are repetitive and do not further the musicals action. Other songs
are reminiscent of those sung at a Baptist revival meeting, but
again, are shallow in their intent.
As Richard and Frances Rawe, Joe Matheson and Christiane Szabo
bring a level of professionalism to an otherwise lackluster cast
of 13. They have moments of real human thought and emotion; a difficult
task considering the flaws in the writing. Matheson has a nice singing
voice and particularly makes a good impression. This is his first
outing in NYC, having worked previously in Toronto, Los Angeles,
and the United Kingdom. I wish him better projects in the future
to showcase the potential of his abilities.