THE GOOD FAITH, 1940-1990

The First Floor Theatre

November 20 - December 7, 2003
Thursday - Sunday 8:00pm
Sunday Matinee 2:30pm

written, composed and directed by Harold Dean James
musical director Christa Victoria
choreographed by Guillermo (D. D.) Resto
featuring: 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


NYTHEATRE.COM REVIEW


THE 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.

The musical 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.

Playwright/composer/director 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.

"The 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.

Musical director 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.

Harold Dean 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.

James' previous 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.

In James' "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.

NYTHEATRE.COM REVIEW
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.

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