Monday, January 22, 2018

Heaven or Helen—Late Bloomers Inc.—SE Portland

God’s Channel


     This was part of the Fertile Ground events and was playing at The Shout House, 210 SE Madison.  It is a one-woman, multimedia show written, designed and performed by Vanessa Hopkins, with technical expertise by David Chandler and Kelly Rauer.  It is based on the life of Dr. Helen Schucman who, with Dr. William Thetford, wrote the very popular, “self-help” book, “A Course in Miracles,” in which she has a roadmap to self-discovery, as channeled by her guide and teacher, she claims, was none other than Jesus himself.

     This production is a work in progress to be developed in the future to a full-scale production in a larger space and cast.  The monologue I saw sketched out the early years of Schucman’s life in which she was informed, at an early age by her father, that she was not pretty, and carried that burden with her for the rest of her life.  She probably decided then that she would not be desirable to men and needed to forge for herself and, thus, became a clinical psychologist, immersing herself in this field.  But she did end up marrying her best friend from school, Louie, although not in love with him.
Another experience that occurred at an early age in the crib was a sense of being able to remove herself from her body and experience a sense of something warm and unseen that she was capable of connecting with.  Later in years she believed that it was Mary, the mother of Jesus (although she was born into the Jewish faith and later became an atheist), as her guide, sometimes stern and sometimes compassionate (as she was).  She teamed up with, what was to be the love of her life, perhaps, her soul-mate, Thetford, and together they would write a pretty audacious book/text.

     Another thing, they certainly made an odd couple:  He was gay, she straight (and married); he was a Westerner, a rather laid-back style, she was a stern Easterner; she was rather a “plain-Jane” type, he was handsome; and she was older than he by a number of years.  But together they made magic.  They say that often opposites attract and so they proved that point.  Another interesting idea, even though her profession was about humans, she didn’t particularly like them.  Or, as Charlie Brown would put it that, Humanity was fine, it was just people he didn’t like.

     This play stops at just the point she is beginning to sense a “higher purpose,” and beginning her spiritual journey.  Hearing voices is not unique with her, as Joan of Arc was reported to have heard them from some saints, as they guided her path (I even wrote a play on it).  And channeling a book from another time or realm is also not unique, either, as Taylor Caldwell, a well-known author, claimed to have done this for her book, “I, Judas” in which he was her guide.  Are these claims a type of madness (as she feared) or a dimensional journey?  As in many things of this type, one has to take it on Faith, or not?!

     Putting aside that she is an interesting subject for a play, the strength of this production rests on two factors:  The visual imaginary that was projected, and the talent of the acting of Hopkins.  The feature of her growing from inside as an fuller human being, as if emerging from a cocoon, was stunning, and the fire that engulfed her was also quite effective.  And, I met Hopkins at Fertile Ground pitching event and was greeted by a young, attractive, vibrant personality.  When I viewed this play, she had transformed herself into a rather severe, aging, plain-looking character with a clipped accent, and had done this all from the inside, only changing her hair and donning a pair of glasses.  That’s good acting, folks!

     Also, the play, in this black-box atmosphere, works extremely well because there is an intimacy involved and, I would hope, a full production doesn’t lose that.  Of course, Hopkins must embody the role for this kind of showing, as she is perfect for it.
There was not any contact information as to a website for her or this company, so you might try Googling the name of the company (or her) and/or the play title listed at the beginning of this review and see what pops up.  I highly recommend seeing a full production of this story when it is presented and, if you do, please tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS