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|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Letting Go of God
By Laura Hitchcock
Julia Sweeney is "Letting Go of God" on Christmas Day. And New Year's Day. The run of this sold-out one-person play has been extended to January 23, she announced Saturday night before the performance. Those who know Sweeney best as the gender-neutral character Pat on Saturday Night Live will be amazed at the elegant beautiful woman with the radiant smile who comes out to share the third edition of her life with the clarity, candor and humor that are her hallmarks.
The first play God Says, Ha! was an inspiring memoir about the loss of her beloved brother to his fight with cancer. It was made into a film. In the second, In The Family Way, Julia, who lost her uterus to cancer at the same time her brother was undergoing his ordeal, becomes the mother of a Chinese orphan, Mulan.
Now Julia takes us on her spiritual journey. The oldest of a large Irish Catholic family, Julia's first step on the path to disillusion comes when her mother tells her that her birthday is in October, not September. Because her bright daughter asked so many questions Mother told this fib to get her admitted to school a year early because she thought it would be better for Julia. Mother had four of her five children by then and Julia can't help but wonder who it would be better for.
Julia's quest begins when two young Morman missionaries knock on her door and tell her about their religion. It sounds really weird to Julia but she considers it to be no weirder than the church stories she knows. " I'm just used to the Catholic stories," she says of the church she loves. She finds a lovely church with beautiful stained glass windows and hip music where she attends a bible study class.
First the stories of the Old Testament with their violence and misogyny, then the contradictions and disappointments in the New Testament wilt under her abashed scrutiny. I just skip what I don't like, says Julia's mother but that doesdn't work for Julia. "The story of Genesis is a poem," says the Bible Study teacher, Father Tom, but clear-eyed Julia is looking around now.
Her exploration takes her to the Orient where meditation and Buddha have effected enlightenment for so many people. She comes to the conclusion that stories over there have the same unacceptable, unreal and negative auras as stories over here. She decides that "the Buddha we get in California is all cleaned up,"
Julia's search for who she is and the ultimate meaning of life leads her through and past Depak Chopra's contention that quantum physics proves the existence of God. What she feels about that is unprintable but her vast reading is remarkable.
When she suspects that Nature is the Great Spirit, off she goes to the Galapagos on a nature tour. The sea, the hills, the marvels of creation are all glorious. But when she stares into the eyes of a weak little bird who is having his brains picked out by a stronger sibling ("That's what they do!" is the guide cavalier comment), she goes home.
Is it possible there is no God? That feels like the bottom dropping out of the world. If there's no Hell, where did Hitler go? If there's no Heaven, will she see her beloved brother again? And if she's an atheist, ("Why can't you just say you're still searching?!" shrieks her mother), does that mean letting go of family? It does for a while. Julia's conclusion may not be yours or mine but it's one she's at peace with and her journey is one with which many questioning minds identify.
Julia Sweeney has a comic's gift of timing, a writer's sense of structure and a stripper's instinct for knowing when to expose what. As a playwright, she crafts her script in simple terms anyone can understand. As the play progresses, the vast array of books she's read and the many people she's talked to demonstrate the high intelligence illuminating this work.
God Said "Ha!"
In The Family Way/a>
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. >Click image to buy.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.