The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Meadows’ ‘Balm in Gilead’ redefines theater

When Ingmar Bergman died this summer, most newspapers eulogized his career’s value with one turn of trivia: He was Woody Allen’s favorite director. They’d have done better to reference Jean-Luc Godard’s words in France’s Cahiers du Cinema in July 1958. Reviewing the director’s body of work, praised so much by so many, Godard simply concluded, “Bergman IS cinema.”

I am something close to illiterate when it comes to the theater, but based on one show I’m less of a child left behind. When you begin the journey of knowing an art, you look to the best, most shining examples of faithfulness to the craft; they will tell you all you need to know.

Thus, I won’t say that the Meadows performance of Lanford Wilson’s “Balm in Gilead,” which premiered Wednesday, is perhaps the best show I’ve ever seen, with a pitch-perfect cast and a meticulous set. No, the greatest praise is more succinct: “Balm in Gilead” IS theater.

More importantly, it’s theater that you should come out to see. Despite its setting in a 1960s New York diner, “Balm” is as relevant as the headlines of tomorrow’s paper.

Every actor fulfills his or her role beautifully, with each line expressed as if thought a millisecond before. These people, all inside or around the diner, move in and out of conversations but maintain momentum through the pauses. And they are all characters we know or, more tragically, are ourselves.

We reminiscence when we see Tig (Frederick Ford Beckley) thrown out of the diner, symbolic for every rebellion we’ve undertaken. We feel Joe’s (Sky King) anguish as he silently debates a hustling deal that’s costing him $100 a day during an era when $100 was a lot of money for people besides every generation’s college students at rent time.

And when Darlene (Emily Ernst) concludes an extended conversation “to make a long story short,” we laugh because we’ve met that type of person more times than we want to count.

It is not a criticism to say “Balm” takes you through all emotions, positive and negative. Its firm commitment to portraying life includes the pain that comes with all great drama.

The scenes come from our day-to-day world, but their presentation is from something more metaphysical. So when a cigarette’s lit, the world stops. But when other crucial moments come, they are obscured in a din of noise. In this way, “Balm” is the marriage of two disparate approaches, with the result transcending both. When the play’s pivotal climax arrives, it’s replayed three times, with two trick-or-treaters providing the rewind button. Here we see the gravity of the act, then the dynamicism of the ensemble and, finally, the insufferable continuation of everyday living.

I suspect all that makes the entire play great is in that moment. It’s a cast that believes their characters and lives them onstage. It’s the disjointedness of life, in the ’60s and today. It’s the dreams of human beings as they collide. Director Travis Ballenger has brought together many talents to accomplish this great feat. There are many other moments, but you will have to complete the vision yourself.

“Balm in Gilead” runs until Sunday. Go see it. When the entire cast joins the play’s gang of loiterers for singing a medley of their lives to a tune familiar to New Year’s parties, their voices almost make a hymn. And that’s an appropriate way to conclude, for if you care about art, missing “Balm in Gilead” is akin to skipping Christmas Eve mass.

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