By Bob Hicks
Today I posted an essay, Serpents, true believers and ‘Holy Ghosts’, on Oregon Arts Watch. It’s about Romulus Linney‘s remarkable 1970 old-time religion drama, which is still fresh and vivid in light of the rise of the fundamentalist right, and worth seeing not just because it’s rousingly good entertainment but also because it’s the farthest thing from a predictable diatribe: it’s funny and sympathetic and engaging, and then every now and again it reminds you that some pretty strange stuff’s going down. Beth Harper’s production for Portland Actors Conservatory is a … well, a revelation.
“Music is at the soul of the revivalist spirit that haunts Holy Ghosts, and poisonous snakes, the successful handling of which signifies faith and glory to the true believers of the theatrical congregation, are in its grip. Linney’s play is Southern Gothic, and from a rationalist perspective its characters are as nutty as a Truman Capote fruitcake – who are these people, and why are they doing this insane stuff? – but they also follow a rigorous logic of the heart. The craziest thing about the play is how it gets inside fanaticism and allows you to understand and even sympathize with it, or at least with the people who turn to it for solace. …
“Blue state urban bubble-dwellers really ought to see this play, and not to poke fun at the red-state rubes, although the drama has some very funny scenes, but to get inside some pretty interesting skin and begin to understand the culture wars from a different perspective. Among these fervidly holy men and women ‘value politics’ isn’t a matter of partisan tactics but of everyday life. And don’t think you’ll always know what the values are …”