The Resting Place
Written by Ashlin Halfnight
Directed by Jessica Holt
A family deep in crisis over a sibling suicide provides the anguish in Ashlin Halfnight’s look at grief, guilt and eventual emotional redemption. Ripped from today’s headlines rife with terrorist bombings and mass killings, The Resting Place provides a sensitive perspective on a family torn apart not only by an unimaginable tragedy, but also the sordid ramifications that source that act. With powerful performances, Halfnight’s story touches on issues of trust, remembrance and coming to terms with the collateral damage, both internal and external.
Annie (Martha Brigham) returns home to assist her family in managing the funeral service and burial of her late brother. She’s logical and driven, eager to fulfill he brother’s wishes to be buried next to his beloved grandfather in the family plot. Problem is, her sister Macy (Emily Radosevich), mother (Emilie Talbot) and father (James Carpenter), who have been dealing with the fallout of the situation for the past two days, have a radically opposing viewpoint; no service, no burial, just a cremation and scattering.
The suicide is just the final indignity this family must accept, the root cause is far more inflammatory and the crux of the family’s anguish. The brother, a local science teacher, was a serial pedophile, who’s acts have brought shame and guilt onto the survivors. Piling onto the grief of their loss, all four family members must come to grips with their remembrances of the son with the secret horrific deeds he’s perpetrated.
Mother Angela spends most of the first act masking her grief with alcohol. Father Mitch is tormented with the knowledge that he may have changed events after his son tells him he has a sexual addiction years ago. Sister Macy sides with mom and dad in wanting to warp the horrific event up and move on. The primary antithesis between Mitch and Annie drives the drama. James Carpenter is mightily bereaved and naturally concerned with how he and his wife can manage their live in their community after this event. There’s a powerful scene where he confronts Annie with one of the victims, a bagboy (beautifully portrayed by Andrew LeBuhn) at the local supermarket to illustrate the affects of the damage done.
Playwright Halfnight says the parents of this piece was Sophocle’s Antigone, which deals with a burial and family loyalty as well as his own school remembrances of sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers on young boys. I would be remiss in not voicing my disgust with making the son a gay man. Several times throughout the play the characters state that it’s not the gay issue their upset with, they’re good with that. Growing up with the horrible gay images in film and stage of the 30’s to 70’s, do we really need yet another gay monster? Could the son have been straight (a larger percentage of pedophiles by far) or maybe even, god forbid, a priest?
The dénouement is both sad and somehow hopeful. The family does mourn together, and Annie comes to an acceptance of her brother’s crimes. There are some borrowed elements of the 1980 film Ordinary People and even Tennessee William’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (the last-minute calls to loved ones before the suicide. The writing is real and raw, enhanced by the beautiful performances.
The Resting Place continues through November 4th, 2018 at Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, San Francisco. Tickets are available at www.magictheatre.org or by calling (415) 441-8822.
Photos by Jennifer Reiley