Flash Review: Balm in Gilead

About a week ago, a cast member of Balm in Gilead described it to me as a show that “some people are going to love and some people are going to absolutely hate.” Although I know it’s my responsibility to come up with my own descriptions, this one is about as accurate as it gets.

I’ll begin by saying that on the aforementioned love-hate spectrum for this show, I fall firmly into the former end. It’s not often that I get the pleasure of going to see a show that truly surprises me, and makes me feel as though I’ve never seen anything like it before. However, some people don’t like to be surprised. In fact, in the row that I was sitting in, there were no fewer than four people who felt that way — a middle-aged woman who fell asleep within the first 10 minutes, and a family of three that left at intermission. But I don’t think that the KCDC Powers That Be mounted this production without anticipating those reactions. Balm in Gilead isn’t a show that tries to please the visitors who came for Family Weekend; instead, it asks them why they wanted to be pleased in the first place.

The play takes place in a New York City diner in what appears to be the 1960s, with many conversations happening simultaneously and characters rapidly moving on and off stage. At the beginning, a solid 10 minutes passes before focus is pulled to anyone in particular, giving the audience a chance to choose what it wants to pay attention to. These naturalistic scenes recur throughout the show, and it seems as though they would be a nightmare to direct — but somehow, drama professor and professional eyebrow-raiser Ben Viccellio makes it look easy.

When we finally meet our two leads, played by Harry Hanson ’13 and Beth Hyland ’13, there are still many others in the diner. A spotlight conveniently tells the audience whom it should be listening to, and their dialogue is clarified by a pair of stirring (if slightly long) monologues from another patron of the diner (Kenny Fedorko ’13). The use of monologues continues throughout the show, even encouraging audience participation at points.

Both leads are well-suited to the task, with Hanson delivering his lines like someone just jaded enough to be charming and Hyland giggling like a sexed-up Disney princess. However, the real star of this show is the music, which comes in the form of a cappella quartets and one rather explicit round. These interludes are important in that they set the mood for the scenes in which they appear, but more so in that they are deeply entertaining.

Balm in Gilead is an experiment in many ways, but at least at Kenyon, it’s an experiment that works. The ensemble is superb, the set is both beautiful and functional, and the costumes are intricate. So what if your parents didn’t like it? This show is a milestone for KCDC, and at least they can say they were there.

19 responses

  1. I was absolutely blown away by Balm In Gilead. Congrats to the courageous and talented cast, crew, and production team. You amazed me (and my parents, for the record!)

  2. Impressive that you guys manage to use an anti-LGBTQ slur in an article less than a week after the article on the use of anti-LGBTQ slurs at Kenyon…

      • “Trannie” is a slur.
        It doesn’t matter that Becca’s article wasn’t specifically about the use of that term, it WAS about the use of LGBTQ slurs at Kenyon. Her article showed that even in a place like Kenyon, we still have people who are cruel and do not care or realize the harm that their words have. Thank you for providing another example of the fact that Kenyon still has a long way to go.
        (I am not the original poster. They’re simply correct, and naturally I agree with them.)
        Also, Balm in Gilead was fabulous, but I must admit I’m a little biased having been involved.

    • I don’t technically control any aspect of The Thrill any longer, but since they’ve seen fit to leave me with my ability to edit posts, I’ve seen fit to edit that out. Just noting in case anyone wonders why it’s gone.

  3. Rumor has it that they’re going to make a recording of some of the songs in the show–particularly the final song from which the play takes its name. Is this true?!

  4. Y’know, the beginning of this article gave me hope for theatrical reviews at Kenyon (I miss Miles). And then we got phrases like “sexed up disney princess.” Also, shouldn’t the Thrill be at least trying to release a review before the run of the show is over. That would seem to be one of the advantages of the online format, as it is, this sort of just becomes a writing exercise.

    • Agreed.

      “Flash” review? More like “Uhh, if You Didn’t See it Here’s Vaguely What you Missed” review.

      C’mon Thrill, get it together.

    • I agree entirely. The Thrill has been a real let down this year. Especially their theater reviews. I thought Issa was going to take over?

  5. What show was the reviewer watching, or did the ambitious format of the show simply overwhelm her powers of observation? To focus the review on ‘..the two leads..’ is to completely miss the point of the show. One could not expect much more from theatre at Kenyon than was evidenced by this effort but one could expect a LOT more from the reviewer.

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