Reuniting with people with whom one has lost touch isn’t always an easy task and, in some instances, can seem out of the question. A reunion between two brothers in the fictitious town of Bethlehem, Alaska, fuels the emotional world premiere of The Hour of Great Mercy at the Diversionary Theatre.
In January 2011, Ed (Andrew Oswald), a gentle openly gay Jesuit priest, leaves the Catholic Church in order to reunite with his estranged brother Roger (Tom Stephenson), the host of a radio program called “The Show.” For reasons that aren’t initially clear, the relationship between the brothers is so broken that Roger doesn’t even greet Ed when the priest first visits his house and, while Roger doesn’t want anything to do with Ed, his brother desperately wants to make amends.
Miranda Rose Hall’s script is, first and foremost, a drama, but the storyline mixes various emotions. A scene can, for instance, start out with an amusing tone, only to surprise the audience by concluding with a tense exchange or a deeply sad moment. Act one has some sequences that are so full of rage between the brothers and Roger’s unhappy teacher wife, Maggie (Dana Case), that one is compelled to take a deep breath at intermission. Hall’s writing is effective, earnest and sincere.
In act two, the atmosphere becomes a lot calmer, and events occur that show the siblings in an equally sympathetic light. There are several scenes where theatregoers will connect with Ed and Roger on a personal level and likely be deeply touched.
The acting from Oswald and Stephenson is engaging whether they’re onstage together, with other performers or alone. Both of them throw themselves completely into their roles, resulting in highly impactful performances.
Case is sadly convincing as a spouse who doesn’t seem to have any joy in life. We feel sympathy for Maggie, even when she acts harshly towards others, because of Case’s believable acting.
Some of the funnier and more upbeat material is given to Patrick Mayuyu as Joseph, a single gay man of faith, and his hilarious elderly landlady Irma (Eileen Rivera). The two of them bring just the right amount of humor and levity to a dramatic tale.
Guiding the ensemble is director Rosina Reynolds, who makes Alaska feel like a place that can be both lonely and full of warmth. She effectively incorporates the use of a few hymns (sung by several of the cast members) that tie perfectly into the religious aspect of the plot.
Her crew, including set designer Kristen Flores, costume designer Elisa Benzoni, lighting designer Curtis Mueller and sound designer Emily Jankowski, effectively portray the freezing weather and dark Alaska days in The Hour of Great Mercy. There are moments when they celebrate the haunting beauty of Alaska as well, including a romantic sequence with the Northern Lights.
Hall handles religion beautifully, with plenty of symbolism and references to Catholicism throughout the play that strengthens the narrative. Ed is a man who faces so many obstacles, that it’s commendable how his belief in God and his religion isn’t completely shattered during the evening. Hall is also able to poke fun at Catholicism, without turning sacrilegious and one of the funniest parts of the script involves an unconventional communion.
By effectively mixing a variety of different emotions in an affecting narrative, the play provides a tribute to hope, even in the grimmest of situations. Hall’s story has the power to move you to tears.