The Bloomington Playwrights Project is presenting the premiere of Tucson based playwright Toni Press-Coffman’s "Holy Spirit on Grand Avenue"
Holy Spirit was a Catholic School in the Bronx. The play opens as three women who were third graders there twenty years ago in 1958 reminisce a bit. They’re at Stephanie’s fancy home in Westchester County. Stephanie, Lindsey Charles, is the administrator of the Jewish Community Center. She was the only African-American at Holy Spirit. Now she’s the only African-American at her temple. In Charles hands, Stephanie is a relaxed woman, comfortable with who she is and where she’s gotten to. She’s drinking wine. Barbara, Ruth Hartke, was the class no-it-all and she’s continued to be that all the way through college, medical school and into professional life on the West Coast.. Barbara’s drinking cranberry spritzers because she hopes she’s finally pregnant. Celeste, Annie Kerkian, was the popular girl in school. She’s a successful artist, but now she’s withdrawn and depressed over her shakey marriage and ambivalent feelings about the daughters that her husband has spirited away. Celeste is on her third or fourth martini and asking for her fifth.
Somehow the women get to talking about one of their eight year old classmates, Diana Penella. Both Stephanie and Barbara remember her well especially because she was brutally murdered by a sixteen year old neighbor boy. It’s an indicator of Celeste’s ego centric life that she doesn’t remember her classmate at all.
I’d heard that "Holy Spirit on Grand Avenue" was a memory play, but still it was a surprise when Erdin Schultz-Bever, looking every bit the bright scrubbed Catholic School 3rd grader, Diana, appeared and began to talk directly to the audience. She had a lovely innocent seeming charm complete with a bit of the silliness and the whine that you’d expect from a bright eight-year old. Her main gripe is that everyone else in the play is twenty years older. They got to grow up, while she didn’t. Diana even complains about it through her scenes with her sixteen year old friend and murderer, Bobby, played by Nick Palmer with all the grace of an attractive though nerdy teen.
As "Holy Spirit on Grand Avenue" unfolds characters come to life and an interesting plot works itself out. The first act is the stronger of the two and some of the second act seems a bit flatter and even a little repetitious. However there are still some intriguing developments. Actor Mike Price appears as Nathan, the oddly nervous President of the Executive Board of the Jewish Community Center where Stephanie works. And in a final moment, the bitterly self-involved Celeste gets a very wise and very eight-year-old message from Diana.
BPP Artistic Director Richard Perez was instrumental in the commissioning of "Holy Spirit on Grand Avenue" and directed this tidy, smooth working piece. The appropriately tasteful and tacky set design was by Danielle Bruce. Lighting, that drew on modern ambience and old fashioned hit them in the face spot lights was by Jeremy Wilson.
"Holy Spirit on Grand Avenue" plays this Thursday through Saturday at eight and then, the 27th through the 29th at the Bloomington Playwrights Project.
You can find an interview with director Richard Perez, actress Lindsey Charles and stage manager Chase Potter on our Arts Interviews page .