The metaphors are up to meta-five or maybe even six in Live Theatre Workshop’s production of Toni Press-Coffman’s “Holy Spirit on Grand Avenue,” directed by Glen Coffman. This is a play that could be interpreted many different ways, filled with stylized language that always feels elevated and at time ceremonial.
All the interpretations would be correct. Here is what it means to me.
While the play takes place in 1978, the meat of the play is held in memories from 1957, a time when religion had a bigger place in everyone’s life than it does today. Christianity lost its grip on society during the late 1960s. The boomer generation embraced a secular lifestyle and never looked back. A lot of people checked out Eastern philosophies.
But now the green generation is turning gray. Thoughts of the hereafter are looming larger. Fallen-away Christians are starting to wonder where they stashed grandmother’s family Bible. Jewish families are doing the same.
Childhood memories of going to church every Sunday take on a haunted quality with the smoldering threat of retribution. Is it too late to be forgiven? Who can be sure? Are some sins more serious than others? Perhaps a little research is in order.
And what about fate? Is it immutable? Are we all just living out our lives without any say in the matter? Or can we make a break with the past, choose a new direction, have a better life?
Press-Coffman doesn’t provide any answers. That part is up to you. She has constructed an ingenious way to dramatize the question.
The story begins with a murder we never see but we are told actually did occur in real life. An 8-year-old girl is stabbed 22 times by a 16-year-old boy from the neighborhood where they both lived. That neighborhood is in the Bronx, along Grand Avenue.
The girl is Diana, played with defiance by Molly Howard. The teen boy is sullen and slump-shouldered Bobby (Paul Matlock).
Diana and Bobby talk freely to each other. She isn’t angry with him for killing her, but does wish she didn’t have to die so young.
The LTW stage-in-the-round design by Seren Helday is set up with a sidewalk running along the front and one side of the stage. The space inside is the furnished sitting room in a wealthy home.
Diana and Bobby stay on the sidewalk. In the sitting room are three women who were in Diana’s grade school class when she was murdered 21 years earlier. Sometimes Diana shouts at the women, but they never see or hear her.
Instead, they talk among themselves. All have come a long way from Grand Avenue when they attended Holy Spirit Catholic School in the Bronx. Stephanie (Suzanne Darrell) owns the luxurious home in Westchester County, N.Y., where the other two are visiting. Barbara (Carrie Hill) is a successful pediatrician. Celeste (Amy Erbe) is married to a Frenchman whose family is highly connected in French politics, but Celeste’s marriage is a mess.
While the women consider themselves friends, they don’t seem to like one another very much. Only Stephanie is happily married, and although she grew up Catholic, she has converted to Judaism.
The first act of “Holy Spirit on Grand Avenue” is mostly getting to know the three women inside, as well as Diana and Bobby on the outside. It all seems very prosaic until we meet Nathan (David Alexander Johnston). He is involved in sitting room conversations with the three women, but then Diana calls out to him. He can see her, too.
IF YOU GO
What: Live Theatre Workshop presents “Holy Spirit on Grand Avenue” by Toni Press-Coffman
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays through April 29
Where: 5317 E. Speedway Blvd.
Price: $14-$17, with discounts
Info: 327-4242, www.livetheatreworkshop.org