Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Julia Sweeney’s "Letting Go of God" 

I can't believe how long ago it was that I originally began to author this post. Probably eight months ago, honestly. Actually, I think it's more because I remember when I went to Sundance I read Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven and I made all these connections and...wait, I'm getting way ahead of myself.

So here's the deal. A while ago, K. and I went to see Julia Sweeney perform at Ars Nova. Ars Nova is a great space over on the West Side of The City, slightly north of Hell's Kitchen. It's a really intimate venue and we've seen someinteresting folks like The Petersons and Sarah Silverman perform there. We also saw Julia Sweeney workshopping the piece that became her one-woman show "In the Family Way" there a few years ago for something like $10 and we loved it. So when we saw that she was trying a new show out called "Letting Go of God", we thought we should check that out, too.

Sweeney's fascinating because while she's in the confessional vein of Spalding Gray, she really has her own voice and it's a very human and very humble voice. It's less about verbal pyrotechnics (Bogosian) and character work (Leguizamo) and more about vulnerability and the voyage of self discovery. And given that her life has been quite tragic (she and her brother were both diagnosed with cancer and only she barely survived), the healthy does of comic timing she brings helps mightily to leaven the proceedings when her real life drama heads into the territory Aeschylus preferred to trod.

"Letting Go of God" picks up after the cancer story ends off and focuses on her subsequent quest for a better spiritual understanding of herself. The events of the show are set off when two Mormon missionaries show up with the news that God has a message for her. When she learns the Mormon's version of history, she begins to question her own Catholic faith because - let's face it - pretty much all religious stories strains the credulity of modern humans.

And so Sweeney set off to do some real research and decide for herself what she believed. It's an amazing story and, perhaps most importantly, an intellectually honest one.

I don't want to give to much away about the show. Except to say that while it's not perfect, it's pretty damn good. And her story is really worth hearing. No matter what your faith is.

So if you're in The City, go get yourself some tix to see her reprise it at Ars Nova this weekend. It's 9 performances only!

For those readers who are out of town or can't make it, you can listen to a clip of it here in the most popular episode of NPR's This American Life ever. (NB: If memory serves me correctly, I think you want to go to 38 minutes and 45 seconds into the broadcast. Their site is down right now, so I can't confirm that.)

And if you do go, you might be interested to read the Krakauer book afterwards since it was the Mormon theology that set her on her quest...
Julia is a very good actress and has an excellent personality. If any readers haven't seen this go, it's a real faith strengthener!

As a theatrical counterpoint on the same theme, I'd suggest the Performance by Joss Ackland called the "Screwtape Letters". The book on tape is a very entertaining performance.
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