NEW YORK, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Hollywood's Kevin Bacon has taken on a tough Broadway assignment in a one-man drama titled "An Almost Holy Picture" and proved he is more than capable of making it a paean to fatherhood that is emotionally gripping and authentically sincere.
"The fatherhood connection for me was very strong," Bacon, who has a 12-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter with his wife, actress Kyra Sedgwick, said in an interview. "I really connect with the fact that this guy I play is trying to do the absolute best job he can as a father, as most of us try. Yet he always manages to trip up along the way, which is what most of us do to a certain extent."
The character Bacon plays in Broadway neophyte Heather McDonald's deftly written play at the American Airlines Theater is Samuel Gentle, a lapsed Episcopal priest who is working as a cathedral groundskeeper. While he tends the bishop's garden, he worries about his beloved 9-year-old daughter, Ariel, who was born with a rare genetic condition (lanugo) that covers her entire body with what he describes as "a golden white swirl of hair."
Gentle feels guilty about the girl's condition, which is generally passed on from father to daughter, and questions the existence of a God that would allow his precocious darling to suffer a disability that requires weekly shaving of her body so that her schoolmates will not make fun of her. The 100-minute Roundabout Theater Company production deals with Gentle's spiritual journey from Job-like despair to ultimate acceptance of God's will.
It was God's voice commanding "Follow me" that led him to become a priest and a church bus accident that results in the drowning of nine children that that convinced him to give up his ministry. He tells the audience his story in a monologue fraught with soul-searching as he seeks some sort of comfort in the face of disappointment over his child's affliction.
"Once we experienced Sept. 11 here in New York, which affected me very deeply, I felt the play was a wonderful opportunity, because it talks about and deals with tragedy and man questioning God and the existence of God in the face of tragedy," Bacon said. "That's what it's really all about."
Gentle's angry concerns result in a confrontation with his daughter over photographs of her in a young friend's gallery show. The father rips the offending images off the walls, intending to destroy them, but in the end he keeps some of them because they actually catch the beauty of his little girl in her bodily corona of silkily glistening hair and he realizes it may be a distinguishing mark of God's favor.
The scene in which Gentle clutches the battered photographs to his chest at the moment of his enlightenment is a powerful one, as beautifully played by Bacon as is a previous daytime sleepwalking scene that is both eerie and exciting. Early in the play, Gentle says "After all, a father's love is a fairly spectacular thing," an observation no one seeing this play would attempt to dispute.
Bacon's method of acting is deceptively modest but nonetheless effective when it comes to getting to the essence of a character, aided of course by McDonald's polished script whose cadenced lines verge on poetry. The play is also helped by Michael Meyer's expert direction, which keeps Gentle in motion without making it seem he is just trying to make a one-man show less static.
Mark Wendland's bog-like set at he edge of a cranberry patch makes a handsome setting, crazily studded with chairs grounded in various positions, and Kevin Adams' muted lighting enhances the other-worldly tone of he play. Michael Krass has provided Gentle with suitable work clothes.
Meyer, resident director of the Roundabout company, originally directed the play in its La Jolla, Calif., and a later production in Princeton, N. J., both with David Morse playing Gentle. The play won the coveted Kesselring Prize for Young Playwrights in 1999. Bacon first read the script two years ago and immediately saw it as the perfect vehicle for his return to the stage after an absence of 10 years.
Now 43, though his boyish looks make him appear to be in his 20s, Bacon made his Broadway debut opposite Sean Penn in "The Slab Boys" in 1983 after taking a number of roles with the Off-Broadway Circle-in-the-Square company. He has made more than 40 films beginning with "National Lampoon's Animal House" in 1978, leading to another claim to fame -- a parlor game.
The game was titled "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" and linked everyone who was anyone in Hollywood to each other through appearances with him in films that included
"Diner," "Footloose," "He Said, She Said," "JFK," "A Few Good Men," "Apollo 13," and "24 Hours." In addition to acting, he also has tried his hand at directing "Losing Chase," and tours the country with his brother, Michael, with their Bacon Brothers band, playing guitar and singing.
"An Almost Holy Picture" is McDonald's fifth play. She teaches theater at George Mason University in Virginia.