“HARMONY HALL” at The 2023 FRIGID New York Fringe Festival: A Review!

Duncan Pflaster’s intriguing new two-character drama Harmony Hall, now playing at The 2023 FRIGID New York Fringe Festival, tells the provocative story about Brother Linus (played by Clinton Powell), an American monk in his early 40’s who lives alone in a small countryside chapel: the “Harmony Hall” of the play’s title.  With the dramatic equivalent of a lightning bolt, the quiet life of this holy man is disrupted by an unexpected knock at the door in the middle of a dark, stormy night.  The surprise visitor is a lean, rugged young man (played by Wyn Delano), who collapses onto the floor shortly after his arrival.  He’s cold, wet, disheveled, and suffering from amnesia. Brother Linus’ humanitarian proclivities kick in, and he takes on the job of nursing his unexpected guest back to health.  Kicking off the action immediately as the play opens, Harmony Hall already establishes a palpable sense of mystery: Where does this story take place?  What time period are we in?  And, most importantly, who is this young man?  

Slowly, the audience starts to learn more about the setting and the characters.  We find out that this chapel is located on an island off the coast of Italy. We also learn that Brother Linus has been sequestered at Harmony Hall for over 20 years, with scant contact with any other humans.  One of the only other people mentioned is “a very rich, very sick old woman” on the other side of the island, whom Linus has never even seen.  In the meantime, it is revealed that the mysterious visitor is another American named “Christian”, and that he washed up on the island after being shipwrecked.  Only one clue to Christian’s past survives: a water-damaged, pocket-sized book of poetry.  Thanks to one character’s references to “hippies” and “free love”, we deduce that the time period of the play is in the 1960’s– an era in American history when social and cultural mores were changing faster than most people could keep up.  Later, thanks to a helpful mention of a certain movie, the year is specifically identified as 1968.  The two men, different as they are, actually find common ground in their affinity for… Judy Garland!

As Christian slowly regains his memory and his strength, the audience notices that something is clearly awakening within Brother Linus as well.  While Linus explains that his dedication to the younger man is based upon his obligation to a humble life of servitude, you can see in his eyes and via his restless energy (courtesy of Clinton Powell’s excellent portrayal) that there is more than just a Christianic sense of charity that is motivating this Brother.  Surely enough, some familiar but long-repressed feelings start to resurface while Christian’s tattered clothes are drying out offstage. The audience learns a lot more about Linus’ backstory, and it’s both fascinating yet heartbreaking when he gets his chance to speak candidly. Shortly afterward, Christian’s hibernating sense of identity awakens with the same level of intensity that marked his initial arrival to Harmony Hall.  The result is a very passionate (and very naked) performance piece of sorts, delivered in something of a trancelike state.  The revelations of both these men, while intensely personal, also reveal so much about the larger American cultural and religious attitudes at the time.  Specifically, through the trajectory of the younger Christian, there is a sense of prophecy about how a revolution is well on its way…

Both Clinton Powell and Wyn Delano are highly appealing to watch, and the acting by both men is superb.  As Brother Linus, Powell is excellent as an isolated soul whose extreme dedication to his faith guides every aspect of his life. The audience truly believes his religious dedication. That said, this monk can also barely hide his newly reactivated feelings of desire even when he’s saying an innocuous line like, “I hope you enjoy the apple.  I grew it myself!” As Christian, Wyn Delano also excels as a mystery man who oh-so-slowly has to solve the puzzle of his own identity. He may not even know his own name at first, but as written by Pflaster and portrayed by Delano, Christian shows right from his first appearance that he has the internal strength to match his brawny exterior.    

Playwright Duncan Pflaster has spoken about the play being “a poetic homage to the style of Tennessee Williams”. For anyone even marginally familiar with Mr. Williams, it is well-known that many of that playwright’s works have explored the issue of repressed sexuality, particular same-sex love– which, of course, was largely forbidden at the time. This theme was present in his more popular plays like A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  A seemingly infinite amount of ink has also been spilled about Williams’ own purported personal sexual cognitive dissonance. The trope of a character with raw, unapologetic sexuality entering the scene to disrupt (or at least “heat up”…) the status quo is also distinctly Tennessee Williams-like. But bona fide fans of the man born Thomas Lanier Williams (like this reviewer) will find even more to gush over, including the priceless reference in Pflaster’s script to that aforementioned old lady on the other side of the island– the one who Brother Linus says, without irony, has been “slowly dying for 24 years.” 

This Harmony Hall is definitely worth visiting!

Cross-Eyed Bear Productions will present Harmony Hall written and directed by multi-award-winning playwright Duncan Pflaster. The production will be presented as part of the 2023 FRIGID Fringe Festival at UNDER St. Marks, 94 St Marks Place, NYC. Remaining performances are Sunday, February 19th at 7pm, Wednesday, February 22nd at 9:50pm, and Saturday, March 4th at 2pm.  Tickets ($20) are available for advance purchase at www.Frigid.nyc. The performance runs approximately one hour. Harmony Hall contains nudity and is not suitable for children.

(Photos by Duncan Pflaster.)

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