The Harrowing of Hell -A Theatre review by Michael Elias
The Harrowing of Hell at The American Theatre of Actors
Theater Review by Michael Elias
The American Theatre of Actors and Collectio Musicorum, Ltd. has given us an extraordinary treat this holiday season with the staging of Jeff Dailey’s adept translation and direction of THE HARROWING OF HELL: A Play from the 13th Century. I had the good fortune to see a performance on Palm Sunday. Those who see it this coming week or on Easter Sunday will have a holiday to remember. The play is very brief so it is presented with three brief table settings that establish the proper tone of religious decorum and devotion. Dr. Dailey has assembled an excellent cast of young performers who articulate their lines with clarity and strong emotional content. They express the thinly drawn characters in a fullness with voice and posture that never seems antiquated or distant. Christopher Yoo, of great physical and facial beauty, creates a Lucifer who is properly simultaneously charismatic and ominous. Throughout, the staging is engaging, the costumes simple and effective, the recitation lucid, and most importantly the drama is always riveting.
The production begins with a powerful evocation of Hell with an empty black stage looking back on to a portico with a fire raging beyond. This is the setting for “The Fall of the Angels,” a play from an anonymous author from the 14th century, with a text updated in the last century, which presents the creation of the world and the fall of Lucifer. God, played dynamically in voice and gesture by Connor Chaney from a perch on the upper stage right speaks directly and personally of the wonder of the world He establishes a suggestion of the disobedience that is soon to develop from his chosen agent, Lucifer. An audience familiar with scripture will recognize the story, a more secular audience will immediately be captured as the ramifications become clear and fast-moving.
The second passage of the evening is a poem by Elliott Blaine Henderson, an African American poet from Ohio, written in 1907 but remarkably contemporary, that picks up the story of Lucifer’s fall from heaven. A passage from the non-canonical Gospel of Nicodemus, in a 19th-century translation, provides a transition to “The Harrowing of Hell” that culminates the evening. Translated from a 13th-century source into rhyming couplets of admirable clarity by Dr. Jeff Dailey, the story ends with Jesus, played with solemn dignity by Benjamin Beruh, liberating from Hell in quick succession Abraham, King David, John the Baptist, and Moses, thus fulfilling his calling and the prophecy of Redemption. Whether believer or doubter, assuredly you will be moved.