"what lies beneath"
A Prayer for the Sandinistas: Subtext theatre
The lofty aim of Subtext theatre to provide an audience with an overt meaning (untruth) that is subverted by a covert message (truth) runs the risk of not hitting the mark. A Prayer for the Sandinistas by Leigh Johnson tells of a North West Polish family awaiting the papal visit of John Paul II to Chicago. The anticipation of encountering this revered persona in a public setting causes the family to question what it means to be Catholic. Each character’s life is measured on the scales of orthodoxy, and each is found wanting. Throughout the play, secrets are revealed, loyalties are tested, and motivations exposed. While the story is interesting, it is perhaps burdened with too many twists and turns. The inclusion of so many characters takes away from the central focus and leaves us wondering just what the main message is.
On the surface, it would seem that this play attempts to redeem the church and rescue it from its present troubles by reminding us of a time in the not too distant past when faith was demonstrated in familial bonds, piety, and, dare I say it, blind trust. It’s possible to leave this play wondering if the last decade of clerical abuse had ever happened. However, naive this reading of the play might be, it is still plausible to believe that the work overtly praises blind faith, and, if this is the overt (untruth) reading of the play, then I would suggest that the covert (truth) needs to have greater clarity. The irony of the drama is couched so deeply that the audience believes too readily the untruth instead of questioning it. And, perhaps, that’s the greatest irony of the play. We want to simplify in order to avoid the painful questions that doubt brings with it.
I love the idealism of Subtext’s mission. We want drama that makes us see beyond the façade. However, there are moments in the play when this is presented to us, but it is done too lightly, and does not force us hard enough to see the satire. What Johnson does well is to provide us with complex characters; the wine loving priest is truly pastoral, one of the Sandinistas is not without conscience, and the rebel son is able to separate faith from family. People are seldom ever one thing. Each of us hides within ourselves good, bad and ugly character traits. This covert truth is, of itself, something to celebrate in this drama.
Terry Boyle – Irish American News