AN ALMOST HOLY PICTURE

Pacific Theatre, until 3rd March

My Two Pence

By Liz Gloucester

 

Ron Reed, Artistic Director of the Pacific Theatre writes in his program notes that he has chosen to stage An Almost Holy Picture 'just because [it is] beautiful.' I am not sure whether I am inclined to agree with him. This one-man show is rather like an intimate interview with the subject of a Hopper painting. Samuel Gentle would not be out of place upon canvas; conscientiously tending his garden and relaying to us the most significantly spiritual moments of his ordinary extraordinary existence.

 

David Snider plays Samuel Gentle, an ex-priest turned bishop's groundkeeper. After hearing the call of God to follow him as a child Gentle identifies two other key moments in his life when he felt a pull of faith. Snider's performance is consistently strong and captivating, however self pity does not really inspire a great deal of beauty in my opinion.

 

The script is positively marinated in sentiment, metaphor and biblical references. Thanks to Anna Schroeder's intricate stage design and properties these are portrayed in spades by Snider's blocking. His potting shed serves as an altar, a bench doubles as a baptismal font and a jar of beans rests covered in cloth like the holy sacrament. The symbolism, in fact, is very much like Gentle's garlic bulbs; heavily layered, at times delicious, but also a bit stinky. Everything was handled with such laboured grace it became a bit like observing a very eloquent tortoise in a glass house, scared to break the delicacies around himself. Some of the imagery was quite stewed and towards the intermission I began to hope for a change of a pace.

 

The pace does not change, however the focus shifts to Gentle's relationship with his daughter Ariel, whose birth signifies the third spiritual wonder. She suffers with an odd medical condition that makes her furry, and although at nine years old she seems comfortable in her own skin, Gentle and his wife are fearful of the world's reaction and are careful to shave and cloak her. Parts of this discourse are incredibly touching and funny, especially his referrals to her as his 'hairy little daughter' and on one occasion 'woolly'. Although there were a few stumbled words and moments of hesitation in Act Two Snider persisted with his honed characterisation of this soft individual, not unlike his perennials.

 

Writer Heather McDonald has created a piece not unlike an extended Alan Bennett 'Talking Head', but from a Brit's perspective, it isn't quite as brilliant or entertaining. Some of the segues seem misguided and I left the theatre feeling a little bewildered, as one might after visiting an art gallery and not quite knowing whether or not the paintings on display were a bit too pretentious.