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On Stage

The Highline Sermons

Of grass, maps and monologues

Thursday, April 4, 2013

As the librarian and I walked into the iDiOM Theater last Friday to see Glenn Hergenhahn’s new play, The Highline Sermons, there was a moment when we didn’t quite know what to do. The concrete stage floor had been replaced by swaths of real sod, and the carpet of green confused us.

“There’s no sign telling us to keep off the grass,” my date whispered as we made our way to front-row seats. As we were contemplating how long it would be before they needed to get out a lawnmower, an acquaintance who had already seen the show a couple days beforehand—and was returning with a friend to view another run—spent a few minutes talking with us about the production.

In addition to pointing out the addition of the living lawn was an integral part of the action, she pondered if people who weren’t writers, theater people or poetry people would get into it as much as she had. She also wondered why the audience was lacking on this particular evening. When it was pointed out to her that the sun had just gone down and it was still warm outside—thus preventing the citizens of Whatcom County from wanting to be inside—she said she hoped it rained next weekend so that people would be more motivated to come in and view what she thought was a clever and interesting play.

Next, we turned our attention to the map-like missive printed on the inside of our programs. Lists for “Show Order” and “Sermons in Chronological Order” were printed, and there were also locales we could expect to see, such as Highline Park itself, Claire and Harriet’s apartment, Arthur’s office and more. It was intriguing, kind of like a treasure map is, and left me wondering what we were in for. 

I’m going to give you a brief outline of what followed, but it is no way comprehensive, as the play touches on everything from what it means to write, what it means to live and the hidden nature of secrets and memory.

The Highline Sermons is based on the story of a fictional group of writer friends who begin meeting at New York City’s Highline Park to deliver weekly sermons on everything from squirrels to wishes to painting to curiosity and storytellers. When the sermons start drawing larger crowds and media scrutiny, things must fall apart or move forward. There is a suicide, a pregnancy and loss. There are parties. And, above all, there are the sermons.

Although Hergenhahn directed and wrote much of the play, the sermons were penned by other writers he invited along for the ride, including Kamarie Chapman, Raven Barnett, Adam Gottschalk, Colby Day, Tim Sanders, Moti Margolin, Solomon Olmstead, and Shu-ling Zhah.

This made for an interesting array of monologues, and crystallized that one writer’s vision is always going to be different from another’s. Although I had a small issue with the overlapping nature of a couple of the monologues—I find one person’s delivery always gets the short shrift in these cases, even if they’re speaking at the same volume—as mentioned above, it was indeed an interesting and creative production.

Through it all, we could smell the grass, reminding us that we were in a park—even if that park was in the middle of a theater.

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