THE CHRISTOPHER BOY’S COMMUNION - Great Barrington Public Theatre
The highpoint of David Mamet’s “The Christopher Boy’s Communion”, in its East Coast Premiere at Great Barrington Public Theatre, is the opening scene, a drunken, rambling rant by big city Irish cop, Hollis (a superb Kevin O’Rourke) to his police buddy Burke (a perfectly cast Mark “Monk” Schane-Lyon). In Hollis’s world, the bygone role of the nightstick speaks of all the failures of society, forcing cops to use guns and then taking the blame for it. The rant, at once both an ugly and beautiful monologue, expertly delivered by O’Rourke, recalls the best of Mamet’s writing: angry rhythms, violent staccatos, fraught cadence, pregnant ellipses that typify the best language from arguably the boldest of American 20th century playwrights.
The long scene is dramatic precis to what follows; it lays down not only the broad themes that the 75 minute play aspires to but also the bones of the story. Hollis and his buddy mourn the suicide of one of their finest, who had put a gun to his head, just weeks before full retirement, on a bench in the park after discovering a young woman raped and murdered, and apprehending the suspect, her boyfriend Michael.
The play focuses on Michael’s mother Joan (Keira Naughton), a, privileged, upper-middle class matron, and the lengths she goes to ensure her guilty son gets away with murder. What drives Joan is her religious faith, devout Roman Catholicism. Michael’s girlfriend is Jewish. Joan unleashes her nascent anti-Semitism. First, Joan fires her Jewish defense lawyer (Will LeBow) because his defense doesn’t blame the victim enough: Joan wants to make her out to be a drug addict who corrupted her son. Her husband Alan (the versatile David Adkins who doesn’t really have enough to do here) fails her because he’s not sufficiently conspiratorial. The family’s parish priest (a fine Nathan Hinton) refuses to lie for her. Desperately, she seeks mystical counsel from a psychic, Mrs. Charles (the wonderful Diane Prusha), who pulls Joan up short: what will you really give to get what you want?
The answer comes all too abruptly in the final scene. Perhaps written to shock, the scene is woefully underwritten. Without spoiling the plot, credit here, oddly, is due scenic designer John Musall, without whose clever selection and placement of a decorative prop the scene might not work. The central problem, however, is Joan’s character. When we realize what it cost Joan to keep her son guilty-free, there is no concomitant emotional loss. Is she thoroughly loveless, remorseless? The character never generates much empathy: she’s unlikable, beginning to end.
Joan reminds us of the January 6 insurrectionists at the Capitol: whatever the cost, they wanted to overturn the election, violence to our democracy be damned. Even though it’s not among his most dramatically satisfying work, with “The Christopher Boy’s Communion”, Mamet continues to expose American sociopathy in his own inimitable way.