Reverend Jonah

Written By Paul Ciufo
Performed by Darren Keay, Michelle Fisk, et al.
Directed by Marie Beath Badian
Blyth Festival Production
August 8 – September 1, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Divisive issues addressed in Reverend Jonah

Grand Bend Playwright Paul Ciufo hopes people will consider both sides of the conflict, with his new play that premiered last week at the Blyth Festival. Ciufo, a resident of Grand Bend, works as a financial planner in Exeter, and writes and re-writes plays in his spare time. Reverend Jonah is the story of the new young minister who comes to a small town in Huron County to become the pastor at the United Church. Very soon, his youthful ideals are put to the test.

Jonah meets up with Phyllis who was kicked out of the church previously because she is in a lesbian relationship. It’s clear to Jonah that she should be back in the church that she once loved. But how to get there is not clear, and Jonah agonizes over the decisions he must make – to the detriment of his health. To Stacey, a quietly controlling church leader, homosexuality is sinful, and Phyllis does not belong in their midst. Stacey believes the young Jonah is misguided and assumes it’s up to her to maintain the status quo. Ciufo has cleverly woven together a very complicated story to create a worthwhile evening of reflection, grabbing and holding the audience’s attention.

Darren Keay is excellent as Jonah – he goes from youthful optimism to being torn apart, with his principles in conflict with the reality he’s facing. Michelle Fisk is also excellent as Phyllis – she shows us the exterior toughness that Phyllis has been forced to develop, but also reveals the gentle interior in a realistic manner. Randi Helmers is good as Stacey, quiet and demanding at the same time.

Adding depth to the plot are characters Barb (Rebecca Auerbach) as Phyllis’ partner, and Rachel (Ingrid Haas) who is Stacey’s daughter and develops a relationship with Jonah. Hands-on, hardworking church members Di (Elizabeth Thorpe-Hearn) and Fred (Jefferson Mappin) complete the cast. Mappin’s excellent portrayal of Fred also supplies some comic relief as the very intense story unfolds.

Credit goes to director Marie Beath Badian for bringing Ciufo’s characters to life. She has created them realistically – you’d recognize them as your fellow church members or your neighbours.

At the preview performance, some lines were flubbed, but we assume that will be corrected by opening night. The set – made up of sliding stained glass windows representing the church, that also become office walls, a store front or patio doors – moved too slowly and unsteadily at times. We hope that, too, is smoothed out as the show continues.

But overall, it’s a very moving story, addressing a difficult, divisive issue. It will leave theatre-goers with much to consider and perhaps even offer a path to tolerance and inclusiveness.

It’s exciting to see a production written by a local playwright brought to life on stage. Credit goes to Blyth Festival for bringing great Canadian talent to the forefront.

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