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Double Cross

Paul Henri
Hirsute and His Mass Confusion: Paul Henri stars in none of the above's poignant production about a father-daughter relationship with a twist--he's a former priest, and she is covered in golden hair.

An ex-priest must learn to bear both leaving the Catholic church and caring for his young daughter's unusual disability

By Sarah Phelan

WHETHER ON STAGE or off, acclaimed actor Paul Henri and multi-talented therapist/visual artist Carol Gaab make one helluva duo. This January, they're combining forces to co-direct An Almost Holy Picture, Heather McDonald's powerful play about the beauty and pain of a former priest struggling to accept his daughter's physical abnormality.

Far from straining their relationship, Henri and Gaab's co-directorial debut has brought the couple even closer: Gaab's expertise in putting together visual and psychological mosaics has further dimensionalized this already intensely introspective piece. And, since Henri also stars in this one-man show, "We've been able to see more of each other, not to mention rehearse in the bedroom," laughs Gaab.

Henri plays ex-priest Samuel Gentle, whose much-loved daughter Ariel is covered from head to toe "in a white-gold swirl of hair" because of a rare condition known as congenital hypertrichosis lanuginosa. Since this disorder is only transmitted from father to daughter, or mother to son, Ariel's situation is all the more poignant, because her balding father can barely grow a beard.

"The part satisfies my need to develop both as an actor and as a human being," says Henri. "Apart from being entertaining and thought-provoking, the show should send audiences away thinking about parent-child issues, because even though most of us don't have a child with this particular disability, this situation represents the struggle that all parents have in accepting their children for what they are."

Henri and Gaab's decision to stage a slower-paced piece rather than an audience-pleasing musical reflects their shared belief in the transformative power of art: "As an artist, you have two choices: Do what is wanted, and be commercially successful, or do what you want, and access art's transformative nature," Gaab explains. "Our main aim is to move the audience. If people come and it enlarges their life, even if not in the way we anticipated, then it did a service."

And while An Almost Holy Picture is definitely not a religious play, according to Henri, "Anyone who sees the show may get a glimmer of a fissure beginning to open in their own psychology, and then start looking at questions of love and acceptance in a different way."

An Almost Holy Picture plays Fri. and Sat. (8pm) through Feb. 8 at the SC Art League, 526 Broadway, SC. Call 429-9278 for ticket info.

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From the January 9-15, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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