Review: ‘Busy World’ ripe for discussion

Theater companies usually plan their seasons months in advance, which makes the Aurora Theatre’s “The Busy World is Hushed” a fine example of foresight. With gay marriage and the churches’ role therein making recent headlines across the state, Keith Bunin’s 2006 drama was a timely choice for the award-winning Berkeley group.

Directed by Robin Stanton, the play makes its West Coast premiere in a riveting production as the final offering of Aurora’s 2007-08 season.

The play portrays a contemporary trinity. Hannah (Anne Darragh), an Episcopalian minister and Bible scholar, is writing a book about a newly discovered gospel — one she believes may be “the closest we’ve ever come to the words of Christ.”

She hires a ghostwriter, Brandt (Chad Deverman), and they work well together; their talks soon move from the professional to the personal as the older woman questions the younger man about his family, his religious beliefs and his experience as a gay man.

But the balance is tipped when Hannah’s son Tom (James Wagner) arrives. The two men couldn’t be more different — Brandt is serious and reserved, while Tom’s a thrill-seeker given to long absences — but they quickly fall in love before Hannah’s eyes.

The drama doesn’t derive so much from their being gay — Hannah is fine with that — as it does from the ways their beliefs intersect. Tom considers his mother’s stalwart faith “a fairy tale”; Brandt thinks his new lover is being unnecessarily hard on Hannah.

Each character is facing a crisis — Brandt’s dad is dying of cancer, while Tom has returned with questions about his own father’s death two decades before. Hannah, unable to tell him the truth, is terrified of losing her son the way she lost her husband.

As layers of secrets and delusion are stripped away, each character’s beliefs about suffering, death, love and redemption are shaken to the core.

The two-hour play takes place in Hannah’s New York study, and Eric Sinkkonen’s set, warmly lit by Kurt Landisman, is a cozy environment of dark woods, stained glass windows, stacks of books and an ivory tower view of the city below.

The cast, aptly costumed by Rebecca Ann Valentino, is terrific, with Darragh the cool center of the heated exchanges between Deverman’s poised, articulate Brandt and Wagner’s volatile Tom.

Bunin’s script is wordy and often unsettling, but Stanton keeps it moving at a smart pace. “The Busy World is Hushed” gives theatergoers plenty to think about and discuss; the night I attended, the lobby at intermission was buzzing with divergent opinions. See it with friends, and discuss.

IF YOU GO

The Busy World is Hushed

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes July 20

Where: Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley

Tickets: $40 to $42

Contact: (510) 843-4822 or www.auroratheatre.org

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