Material girls

Trinity uncovers Hare's Secret Rapture
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  March 10, 2009

THE SECRET'S OUT: But there's not much rapture in it, despite the best efforts of Anne Scurria, Fred Sullivan Jr., and Rachael Warren.

They shoot liberals, don't they? So seems to say the usually evenhanded if impassioned David Hare in The Secret Rapture, a 20-year-old play being urgently, elegiacally revived by Trinity Repertory Company (through March 29). Set during the era dominated by Ronald Reagan in the US and Margaret Thatcher in Hare's UK, this dysfunctional-family drama demonstrates the "sanctification of greed" that was blessed by the Iron Lady of Downing Street and flourished in both countries until recently sent to Hell in a handbasket along with the world's economy. You can't say the work's not relevant. But unlike Hare's Olivier Award–winning 1995 Skylight, which limns the impossibility of tender alliance between well-intentioned individuals lined up on either side of the greed divide, The Secret Rapture wears its didacticism on a caricatured sleeve that, halfway through, sprouts melodrama like a big, lurid ruffle.

A family tussle whose starting bell dings at a deathbed, the 1988 drama by the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of The Reader was also turned into a moody 1993 film helmed by the play's original director, Howard Davies. (The 1989 Broadway production, directed by the author, lasted only 12 performances, kicking off a vitriolic exchange between Hare and then New York Times drama critic Frank Rich.) Taking its name from the spiritual consummation of a nun's marriage to Christ, the play centers on bereaved sisters divided by very different devotions: bohemian Isobel, who adored her late bookseller dad, runs a small graphics business with her artist boyfriend, whereas Marion, who's married to a Christian entrepreneur who uses Jesus as a business model, is a junior minister in Thatcher's army, evangelical about order and lucre and repulsed by messy "human" doings. The siblings are united by one thing: though Isobel is the more generous, both are wary of and burdened by the vulgar, alcoholic loose cannon of a second wife who appears to have enlivened Dad's sunset years. Left with nothing but the house, her cravings, and time on her hands, widow Katherine announces her intention to go to work drumming up business for Isobel's firm, and to keep the unstable stepmother occupied and (they hope) out of trouble, Marion and husband Tom agree to bankroll Isobel's '80s-materialism-fueled expansion.

What the play means to do is illumine the way in which neither modest do-gooderism nor hard-nosed Tory aggression can control the damage wrought by human emotion run amok. Not only is Katherine an energetic, destructive force, but when Isobel rejects her sensible, solicitous, artist lover, Irwin takes a turn that makes the knife- and bottle-wielding Katherine look tame and pulls a sex change on Congreve's observation that Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Even less convincing than Irwin's transformation from helpmeet to stalker is smug Thatcher stand-in Marion's developing, in the wake of tragedy, a heart to break while capitalistically Christian Tom perceives his investment in the Lord shriveling into something like a stake in Citibank. How can we feel for these people when Hare, regardless of the eloquence, adamancy, and wit of his prose, has set them up as two-dimensional, near-parodic villains and boobs? Is there such a thing as trickle-down compassion?

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Related: Review: Secret Rapture, Hare belles, Trinity's rollicking Absurd Person Singular, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Entertainment, Ronald Reagan, Performing Arts,  More more >
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