Robert Tanitch reviews The Busy World is Hushed at Finborough Theatre, London, SW10
American playwright Keith Bunin’s mini-drama, a three-hander about religion and belief, had its premiere in New York in 2006. Paul Higgins’s production is Bunin’s UK debut.
Bunin takes his title from a prayer by Cardinal Newman written in 1830:
May He support us all day long till the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done!
Bunin had a Quaker school upbringing and the play is his attempt to make sense of his religion and spirituality.
The play (he says) is about people who are actively struggling to figure out the place of God in their lives, in the hopes that they can learn how best to love each other.
An Episcopalian minister (Kazia Pelka), a Bible scholar, interviews a young man (Mateo Oxley) to ghost-writer a book she is writing on a newly discovered Gospel.
Dating from AD50, the manuscript predates the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The minister hopes she will find the real Jesus.
The ghost-writer is a lapsed Catholic. He is also gay and his father is terminally ill with brain cancer, two reasons why he is a lapsed Catholic. Why (he wonders) is the Church homophobic and why does God allow all this pain and suffering?
The minister’s husband drowned when she was pregnant with her son. Was it suicide? Her son now 26-years-old (Michael James) has been unstable ever since he was 16.
Anxious to keep him grounded and to stop him from leaving home yet again, she actively encourages the ghost-writer to have sex with him. Now how does she reconcile this with being a minister of the Episcopalian Church?
The Busy World is Hushed has its faults; but the acting of Mateo Oxley and Michael James is impressive and argues well for their future.