by Stephen Hunt
An Almost Holy Picture
at Rosebud Theatre June 29 through September 2
Phone toll-free 1-800-267-7553 or locally at 403-677-2001
How would your faith hold up when the worst happens?
That’s the emotional backdrop Rosebud actor David Snider faces playing Samuel Gentle, a former New Mexico minister turned church groundskeeper, in An Almost Holy Picture, a critically-acclaimed solo show by playwright Heather McDonald that opens June 29 in Rosebud’s Studio Theatre.
An Almost Holy Picture, which Kevin Bacon performed Off-Broadway over a decade ago, tells the story of a man bewildered by life, who tries to reconcile his faith in the face of all sorts of evidence suggesting that hope is an emotion reserved exclusively for the naive among us.
(David Snider plays Samuel Gentle in An Almost Holy Picture, at the Studio Theatre in Rosebud. Photo credit: Morris Ertman)
An Almost Holy Picture tracks Gentle’s journey over the course of three separate mystical moments in which he tries to come to grips with a past that includes a horrifying bus accident, and the birth of his own daughter with a mysterious condition that almost seems to be an act of divine retribution.
Mostly, it’s a story about one man’s quest for faith, in the face of nothing but reasons not to believe in anything.
“It’s so much about him piecing his experience and his history together,” Snider says. “And in a way – because it deals both with his fundamental identity and relationship with and encounters with the divine – the piece sometimes feels pretty abstract.
“There’s a lot of mystery so far around investigating it and going, what’s the action in it?” he says, continuing. “How is this not just talking? I’m not sitting in a skeptical place about that, but I think that is the other big challenge. It’s really beautifully written.”
Equally challenging for Snider is the type of temperament Gentle possesses, which cuts against the grain of the type of guy he usually plays. “A lot of roles I play,” Snider says, “are – not always – but tend to be more extroverted.” (See: accompanying photos).
Gentle, on the other hand, is one of those inner-directed, stoic types of men who burns hot inside, but tries to keep the emotions bubbling under the surface, like a good Western Canadian, except when provoked by the Fates.
“Very little of it is demonstrated,” Snider says. “That’s going to be a big part of the process.”
It’s a full-length play told in monologue, the most demanding of all formats for an actor, which is why the collaboration between Snider and director Ron Reed was hatched even before Reed arrived to begin supervising rehearsal.
“I haven’t really done this (a solo show) before,” Snider says, in a phone interview about three weeks prior to opening.
“When we first talked (about the show) in February,” he says, “he was like, start working on the text now, so I basically did map out, between mid-February and this coming Sunday, a pathway to spend pretty much three to four hours a week up to the last two weeks (before opening). Then, it will move more up to 10 to 12 hours a week, just working through the text, trying to be relatively off-book, so that I don’t spend rehearsal time trying to assimilate or pioneer the whole thing – I don’t think that would be wise at all.”
Snider has latched onto a unique controlling idea for pulling all those words into a single, unifying idea, to help give An Almost Holy Picture its shape.
“It’s a big piece of music,” he says. “Yes, there are some passages in the music that can afford something much more piano, pianissimo – but knowing that in the whole of it, it’s going to have to sustain the audience, there’s (also) going to have to be some mezzo forte and maybe selectively triple forte moments.”
For Rosebud artistic director Morris Ertman, the faith that the company’s actors make to each production is its own unique sort of miracle.
“We can get lost so that we don’t really believe anything anymore,” Ertman says, “and the theatre is a place that requires extraordinary faith – which has nothing to do with religion – just extraordinary faith.
“That’s what we all long for in the theatre,” he adds, “just like we long for in live music. We’re blown away when the band suddenly takes a detour and we don’t know what’s happening, but all of a sudden this song that we’ve always known is exploding in a way we never thought possible – because these people are in the moment. It’s infectious.”
(Feature photo: David Snider, Rosebud Theatre. Photo credit: Morris Ertman)
Stephen Hunt is Rosebud’s 2017 Writer-in-Residence