Live Theatre Workshop knows that life has some pretty big questions, and the answers aren’t always easy to find.
So, they’re closing out their 2021-2022 season with “An Almost Holy Picture” on their main stage. Running through Oct. 8, the one-man play by Heather McDonald explores ideas of faith, humanity, growth and suffering.
It’s a play that director Sabian Trout has wanted to do since she saw Kevin Bacon in it in 2002. Also the Live Theatre artistic director, Trout said she was waiting for right time and actor to be available.
For her, the right actor is Stephen Frankenfield because he is, she said, a gifted comic actor. This script demands someone who can find comic deliveries in what is often very serious and sometimes heart-renching material.
Frankenfield plays the role of Samuel, a former minister who is now the church’s groundskeeper. He tells a story of his life’s journey, from hearing God’s call to the ministry, to the death of nine children in a bus crash and the birth of his daughter Ariel, who has a rare genetic disorder that causes her to grow golden hair all over her body.
While others have described this play as meditative, Trout warned that producing the piece that way is a trap and misses much of the beauty of the play.
“I think it’s part of why the play has not been produced, or if it has been produced, I would say not fully realized in the past — even in the Broadway production that I saw,” Trout said.
“If someone takes the approach with this play that it is heavy, that it is reflective, that it is cathartic, it doesn’t really sizzle the way it can. The story doesn’t really come to life and become resonant to its full potential.”
Rather than call it “meditative,” Trout preferred to say extremely dynamic. She’s pleased with what Frankenfield has done with the role.
“He really leans into the parts of the story that are relatable, that are light-hearted, that make the show — I won’t say funny, because I don’t think it’s a funny piece — but what makes the show accessible and affirming as opposed to watching someone struggle with some difficult things that happened in their life. Instead, he narrates the story in a way that makes you cheer for him,” Trout said.
She said he is not showing the events of the past, he’s telling them as a story, directly connecting with the audience.
On opening night, the director said the audience was intensely engaged in the play. She sat in the back and watched as people were on the edge of their seats, mesmerized the whole times.
At this production, she said the audience did not move for 85 minutes. The only complaint she received after the show was that Frankenfield left before the audience could give him a standing ovation.
While the story is about a minister and he talks about his relationship with God, Trout said that it is not at all a religious story, which is why it can appeal to people regardless of their faith.
“There’s an element of the story that is about exploring whether a person wants a relationship with a higher power, and if so, what their personal idea of a higher power is and what solace they do or do not gain from that relationship with a higher power,” Trout said. “But it is certainly not a commentary on religion, on organized religion, on the church, on God. It is not directive about religion in any way, shape or form.”
Samuel starts the play by saying there are three experiences that have shaped his personal idea of God, but he is not trying to change anyone else’s idea.
In switching vocations, Samuel goes from tending people to tending a garden.
Trout said this show has one of her favorite sets in 17 years of running the theater. She said it is gorgeous, huge, beautiful and has a very high production value. The set was designed by technical director of Live Theatre, Taryn Wintersteen and built by Marli Ray, who is a technical director for Arizona Repertory Theater. Both are UA graduates.
It’s something she hopes Tucson folks will make it to before Live Theatre closes out its season.
“You’ll walk out feeling uplifted,” Trout said. “It’s just a really exciting, dynamic, engaging, uplifting, affirming 85 minutes in the theater.”
Live Theatre Workshop’s “An Almost Holy Picture” by Heather McDonald
WHEN: Various times through Oct. 8
WHERE: Live Theatre Workshop, 3322 E. Fort Lowell Road, Tucson
COST: $23; $21 military, seniors and students; $17 for Thursdays
INFO: 520-327-4242, livetheatreworkshop.org