Letting Go of God

Letting Go of God
(breaking up is hard to do)
a Kate West review
written, directed and performed by Julia Sweeney
at Hudson Backstage, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd. Hollywood 90038
from October 9 – November 21, 2004, Tix $20
contact (323) 960-4420 or www.juliasweeney.com

Julia Sweeney’s latest one-woman show, “Letting Go of God,” is a recollection of her crisis of faith and agonizing journey leading her to the terrifying conclusion that (for her) there is no God (hey, it’s in the title folks!)

Best known for the wacky, androgynous character “Pat” from the Groundlings Theatre and later Saturday Night Live, Julia first delved into performance monologues with “God, Said Ha!” - an homage to the memory of her brother Mike, who died tragically of cancer. Engulfed in the deepest sorrow, Julia still manages to charm and entertain audiences with hilarious anecdotes, all with a wonderfully warm immediacy. Her next endeavor, “In the Family Way,” chronicles her resolution to adopt a baby from China and she is now the proud mother of Mulan, a beautiful and precocious child. Another success.

“Letting Go of God” is departure from simply telling a life event in an amusing manner. All of her pieces are personal, yet “Letting Go of God” is the most intensely personal and vulnerable work. To begin with, publicly admitting that you doubt the existence of God is opening yourself up to controversy. Raised Catholic which filled her with warm memories, voicing her “conversion” to her parents seemed like a betrayal. Yet Julia is always compelled to be true to herself and, as she admits, by the need to confess it in public.

Her doubt begins to creep in after a seemingly innocent visit by two Mormon salesmen spreading the word. They ask her if she believes that God loves her and from then on, Julia starts to question everything she previously took for granted. Reading the bible cover to cover, she uncovers many contradictions and fallacies and wonders why she was always taught everything at face value. Exploring Buddhism next and then Darwinism (which includes an illuminating trip to the Galapagos Islands), she becomes more and more disillusioned with her childhood God and more and more convinced that humans are truly alone in the universe.

We suffer through every painful revelation with Julia and ache for her tortured soul. By the end of the play, however, she convinces us that she is peaceful and content with her beliefs and in fact, labels herself a naturalist (meaning she believes in the natural scientific order of things), rather than an atheist. It is also worth noting that throughout the performance, Julia is completely adept as always at entertaining and charming us, but never at any moment imposes her beliefs on anyone. With adroit professionalism, she recounts her long and painful journey toward her personal enlightenment without ever intimating that we do the same. Thus we can emphasize with her, yet still come to our own subjective conclusions. This is truly a gift she gives us, allowing freedom of thought, while allowing us a glimpse into her sharp reasoning skills. Read more!

In Between

In Between - a one act play
a Kate West review
written and performed by David Storrs
directed by Karen Maruyama
at the Elephant Lab/Lillian Theater
1076 Lillian Way, south of Santa Monica Blvd., between Cahuenga & Vine, Los Angeles
Every Thursday 8 p.m., October 21 – November 4, 2004, RSVP (818) 980-0843, $10

“In Between” is an adorable and clever true-to-life account of the pangs of despised love. Author David Storrs addresses the audience at the top of the play, explaining that we are about to see an account of his breakup with his girlfriend and what happens before healing – in other words, the “in between” stage - when people are at their most vulnerable and nutty.

Although Storrs credits Michael Naughton, Aron Kader and Jill Alexander with helping write some scenes, most likely taken from his stint in the Groundlings Sunday Company, (www.groundlings.com), his is the prevalent voice. The actors portray different people in Storrs life, depicting everyone from Shannon, the girlfriend who leaves him (sympathetically portrayed by Kristen Wiig), and best friend Kevin (the likeable Michael Naughton) to Steve Mallory, acting as a literal umpire, striking out Storrs whenever he puts his foot in his mouth. It happens frequently, as Storrs himself admits.

Through a series of amusing comedic vignettes, Storrs unmasks himself, unafraid to portray the fool and copping to all the mistakes he made in the relationship. Buoyed by a strong cast, including Stephanie Courtney, Liz Feldman, Jay Lay, Steve Mallory, Mark Mollenkamp, Katey Mushlin, Michael Naughton and Kristen Wiig, and guided by strong directing from Karen Maruyama, Storrs is the universal voice of the dumped. We emphasize profoundly because after all, who hasn’t had heard the “let’s-be-friends” speech or plaintively asked “what did I do wrong?”

We also have the added benefit of Storrs addressing us directly, creating an informal and welcoming atmosphere. He spars jokingly with fellow cast members vying for the spotlight, including girlfriend Shannon who wants to tell her side of things. Storrs is so friendly and open that we instantly sympathize with him, even when he is recalling the most embarrassing moments. It is precisely this stage presence that gives the play its charm. In other hands, it may have come across as more pathetic but Storrs highlights the drama with charming honesty and gentle self-deprecation.

At a little over an hour, the play is just long enough for one to get a good insightful look into the modern dating world, while still rooting for the main character. A little uneven at times, the play is constructed with previously written scenes that Storrs adapts for this new single-themed piece. Regardless, he wins us over by the very act of putting on this production, as he is proclaiming himself healed, giving the rest of us a little sorely needed optimism. A warm, self-contained piece, it would be interesting to see a full-length production of “In Between,” but as it stands, it is definitely an amusing evening. Read more!