High | Repertory Theater of St. Louis

Turner is everything you would imagine she would be in person, commanding and brilliant.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

October 13-November 7
 
Missouri native Kathleen Turner made her St. Louis stage debut Friday evening in the world premiere of Matthew Lombardo’s intense and emotional drama about addiction, High, directed by Rob Ruggiero. The show begins its Broadway run next year, so St. Louis audiences are among the very first to see it. Only the beloved Rep allows local theater lovers such an intimate view of one of the most legendary actresses of our time doing what she does best. While Turner may be most well known for films like Body Heat and Romancing the Stone, or her comic turns on TV shows including Friends and, most recently, Californication, the stage is clearly where she shines the brightest.
 
She makes this abundantly clear in her riveting performance as the conflicted Sister Jamison Connelly, a street-talking, recovering alcoholic nun who is a rehab counselor in a Catholic facility. Lombardo’s story of Sister Jamison and her attempt to save an incredibly troubled young drug addict and male prostitute named Cody Randall (played brilliantly by Philadelphia native Evan Jonigkeit) is not for the faint of heart. In its two hours, High tests and pushes the boundaries of not only the topic of addiction, but questions of faith, family values, self-worth and human will, and never tries to tie things up in a pretty little bow.
 
So raw and real are the scenes, played mainly by Turner and Jonigkeit, along with the understatedly powerful Michael Berresse as Sister Connelly’s colleague and adversary Father Michael Delpapp, that nothing else is needed to detract from the superb dialogue and acting. Keeping the focus 100 percent on the interactions of the actors, the only set dressings are two white chairs, a small white table and two sliding white walls with doors against a black background. The starkness of the stage allows the audience to be fully taken in by the characters and their seemingly unsolvable dilemmas, which are extremely personal to playwright Lombardo, a recovering addict himself.
 
The dynamic between Sister Connelly and quintessential “lost soul” Cody Randall is at once volatile, intense, touching and uncomfortable – at times even painful to watch. Turner is everything you would imagine she would be in person, commanding and brilliant, her signature deep growl making the audience hang on her every word.
Jonigkeit deserves as much credit for holding his own alongside her in a fiercely emotional battle that reaches its most riveting and unsettling point in the final scene of Act One, which he plays completely in the nude, body and soul fully bared to the audience.
 
Turner takes us deeper into Sister Connelly’s psyche through a series of side monologues she delivers against a black and star-filled “sky,” revealing slowly the real reasons for both her addiction and her calling, as well as the ultimate test of her faith. Although she is the best addiction counselor at Saint Francis Rehabilitation Center, Sister Connelly believes that one has to want to be saved in order for it to work, even with God’s help. As we work through both her and Cody’s struggle with faith and the will to live, new layers and secrets are revealed that threaten to unravel any progress they might make.
 
Although I won’t reveal any more about the plot, it is a fascinating journey, and one that is best to watch unfold naturally. High is not perfect – in fact, the show is constantly being re-written in its pre-Broadway runs. St. Louis shares its world premiere with two other theaters, launching first at TheatreWorks in Hartford, Conn., then moving to Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park before coming here to The Rep. There are changes to the script in the performance here that were not in place two weeks ago.
 
That being the case, audiences should take this production of High not as the perfected piece it should be by the time it reaches the Broadway stage, but rather for what it is now, a unique opportunity to experience what great, live theater is all about – the evolution of great writing and great acting and a chance to see a living legend grace our local stage. She is truly unforgettable and High will stay with you for days. | Amy Burger
 
The Repertory Theater of St. Louis presents
High starring Kathleen Turner
Browning Mainstage of the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts at Webster University.
Ticket prices start at $18.50 and are available at The Rep Box Office, located inside the Loretto-Hilton Center, by phone by calling (314) 968-4925, or online at  http://www.repstl.org. Check the website for showtimes.

 

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