REVIEW: Kathleen Turner's performance in this addiction drama is marred by weak script, poor sound.
If "High" is memorable at all, it's for the wrong reasons.
Matthew Lombardo's new drama, which opened Thursday headlined by screen icon Kathleen Turner, is like an anti-drug after-school special that has been turned into a profane theatrical evening.
The two-act show lasted for only a week on Broadway. This touring production, up for only a few more performances at the Pantages Theatre on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, shows why.
"High" falters on a clichéd script, heavyhanded direction, poor sound design and Turner's stiff, huffy performance. For Turner fans, the sexy contralto is now just a contralto. And the effects of treatment for rheumatoid arthritis have blunted some of her charisma.
Turner plays Sister Jamison Connelly, a pantsuit-wearing nun with a troubled past and a sailor's tongue. Father Michael (Tim Altmeyer) has asked her to counsel a teenage addict, Cody (Evan Jonigkeit).
Self-destructive Cody has lived a harrowing life. His mother, who wished that she had aborted him, sold her body for a living. Cody doesn't know his father. Because of childhood abuse, the young man self-medicates with a seeming death wish.
The narrative is tough and matter-of-fact, with a few moments of sobering levity. Director Rob Ruggiero tries to move things quickly along with sharp scene changes indicated by bell-like tones. The set, by David Gallo, is simple, with two chairs and a small table in front of two walls with doors. Designer John Lasiter uses lighting to deepen some of the scenic elements.
My disappointment with Turner's turn is not entirely about her. True, she walked stiffly and did not have good diction, but she may have been helped by better acoustic design. Often her microphone made her sound like someone with a cold or talking behind a screen. Turner has good command of her lines and she is expert at flashing Sister Jamie's raw side. But the barriers to her character were often insurmountable.
On the other hand, Jonigkeit was engaging and terrific. He played Cody with slinkiness and gusto. In one scene, Cody busts into the door with a needle broken off in his arm. Sister Jamie tries to help him. Jonigkeit nails the pain and the bizarre thrill that his crazy character feels in that sequence. He also takes his clothes off to reveal that he has been spending time at the gym when he has not been shooting up.
Altmeyer also is commendable, using vocal and physical gestures to sketch a priest with a past. It's too bad that they did not have a better script. They might have been able to take the show to another level. Instead, "High" left this theatergoer anything but.