THE QUEER ISSUE Aurora Theater takes on reportedly its first gay-themed work with a West Coast premiere of Keith Bunin’s almost-too-smart The Busy World Is Hushed, a play that ultimately has as much to do with questions of Christian faith and the mixed blessing/burden of family as with sexual orientation. The play, which debuted off-Broadway in 2006 amid a fracas in the Episcopalian Church over the issue of homosexuality, concerns a middle-aged Episcopalian minister, scholar, and single mother named Hannah (Anne Darragh) who hires a young writer, Brandt (Chad Deverman), to ghostwrite her book on a newly discovered gospel that may represent more faithfully (ahem) the "authentic" Jesus.
Both characters have personal reasons for being interested in this project. Hannah was widowed when her husband walked into the sea in a possible suicide, leaving her pregnant and alone. Her sharp intellect leaves plenty of scope for criticism of the institutional and historical construction of God and the bigotry of the Church, but her faith which she grounds in her own suffering and isolation as a way of giving them meaning and purpose is only refined in the process. Meanwhile, Brandt, a lapsed Episcopalian, long ago moved away from a church that invalidated his identity as a gay man. But with his father dying in the hospital and unable to concentrate on his own writing, he’s eager to lose himself in Hannah’s work at least partly because of the bitter questions his father’s cruel demise stirs up about the nature of God and religion.
Bursting into this scene comes Hannah’s wayward 26-year-old son, Thomas (an especially engaging James Wagner), just back from another of his ecstatic "get lost" adventures, a patch of porcupine quills jutting from one ankle. Soon Brandt, clearly smitten, is kneeling before Thomas plucking out one quill after another with a mischievous glee that covers for the eroticism in this little St. Sebastian moment (a tableau that morphs into another about as preposterous when, in their next meeting, Thomas dons a big leather toolbelt to put up a couple of shelves). Hannah’s delving into Christian history and exegesis mirrors her equally solitary if gregarious and promiscuous son’s own restless quest to understand his real-world father which holds out for him a similar promise of existential meaning, moral guidance, and a quieting of the soul.
But their quests, while similar, are also in conflict. A battle is being drawn between mother and son in some sense over, and in the name of, the father(s) so that when Hannah practically begs the hapless Brandt to act on his feelings for her son, it’s with something less than unalloyed Christian spirit. Director Robin Stanton’s actors deliver their lines with conviction, but the dialogue gets both too pat and too constructed, at times almost Socratic, so that soon belief is a dwindling resource all around.
THE BUSY WORLD IS HUSHED
Through July 20
WedSat, 8 p.m.; Sun, 2 and 7 p.m.; $40$42
2081 Addison, Berk.
(510) 843-4822, www.auroratheatre.org