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Bad Body Hair Day

Paul Henri
Mass Communication: Paul Henri stars as a former priest struggling with his hirsute daughter's strange abnormality in none of the above's production of "An Almost Holy Picture," which runs through Feb. 8.

Actor Paul Henri turns a one-man
show into a revelation

By Sarah Phelan

'A FATHER'S LOVE can be a fairly spectacular thing." So says former priest Samuel Gentle in Heather McDonald's An Almost Holy Picture. And he's not kidding. Spectacular is the word both for McDonald's profound portrait of paternal love and for actor Paul Henri's magnetic performance as Gentle in this one-man show. For, when Gentle's much-awaited daughter is finally born, she's covered in pale-gold body hair like some kind of "misguided angel." As he cradles his furry newborn in his arms, two things happen to Gentle: He's filled with a wide-open love "as big as all creation," then choked by a rising "To hell with you!" attitude toward God.

Henri plays out Gentle's ensuing spiritual crisis Gethsemane-style by working as a groundskeeper in a wind-stripped winter garden, where he ritualistically drops beans into a jar, still hoping for some kind of divine intervention.

But it's not all doom and gloom between these ivy-clad walls. Dressed in a tattered tweed jacket, straw hat and highly polished concha belt, Henri is sometimes tragic, oftentimes hilarious as the sleepwalking ex-priest who rakes his way through piles of fallen leaves and images from his past, looking for answers to the Big Questions. Is "Shit happens" an adequate philosophy of life? What is the religious significance of hair? And how big are hummingbirds' penises, anyway?

Full of visual symbolism and cyclical references to light and dark, McDonald's poetic script made me jealous of Henri for having to learn such a beautiful two-hour monologue by heart--and for being able to deliver it so powerfully.

Producer Eric Conly and co-directors Carol Gaab and Henri have stayed true to the show's intensely introspective yet delightfully entertaining mood.

The set design by Gaab and Marie Grace honors McDonald's attention to visual detail: The duo's beautifully crafted stained-glass window of Jacob and the Angel keeps the focus on Gentle's struggle with his inner demons. Yet, that same imaginative set allows for seamless transitions to the cranberry bogs of Cape Cod--where Gentle first sees God's light--and to the fierce blue light of the New Mexican desert, where Gentle unexpectedly stumbles "blind in so much darkness."

Kudos to Henri for sound design and to Ron Reinberg for fine lighting.

Don't miss this evening of poetic imagery, where even the theater walls echo the play with a mini-exhibition of paintings, photos and reliefs of angels and churches.

An Almost Holy Picture plays Fri.­Sat. (8pm) through Feb. 8 at the Broadway Playhouse in the Santa Cruz Art League, 526 Broadway, SC. Tickets (429-9278) cost $12 general, $10 for seniors and students.

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From the January 30-February 5, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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