Have you ever played Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? While it might be a bit tough to find the connection between the Hollywood star and David Snider, the Alberta-based actor has accomplished what Bacon could not with Heather McDonald’s An Almost Holy Picture. Almost.
Back in 2002, Bacon took to the Broadway stage with McDonald’s quiet play. It didn’t translate well to the 740 seat American Airlines Theatre. While Bacon was lauded for his attempt, the production was largely panned by the critics.
Perhaps what it needed was a more intimate venue, like the 128-seat Pacific Theatre in Vancouver where Snider is currently starring in this one-man show about life, faith, and hope.
An Almost Holy Picture is the story of Samuel Gentle, a former priest turned church groundskeeper, whose faith has been shaped by three things: a voice he heard as a child, a tragic school bus accident, and his daughter’s rare disease.
Under the direction of Ron Reed, there is a reverence to Snider’s performance which mirrors that of the script itself. In act one, we learn some details of the trio of faith-changing moments in Samuel’s life, although it would have been more satisfying if the playwright had spent equal time with each. As we reached the half-way mark, there were hopeful expectations for the play’s second act (although it was pretty clear it would not include the addition of a car chase as suggested by one theatre-goer at intermission).
Unfortunately, following the break, the playwright all but abandons two of Samuel Gentle’s three life/faith-changing moments, spending almost the entire second half on his daughter’s story.
Not that her story isn’t interesting, but the progression to its dramatic conclusion is largely missing, and it ultimately becomes an unsatisfying journey. The journey would have been that much more fulfilling, had the playwright woven the other two pivotal moments into the conclusion. Instead, McDonald largely replaces those missing pieces with sometimes frustrating tangents, interrupting Gentle’s story.
Like reports of Bacon’s performance on Broadway, Snider is working hard to breathe life into McDonald’s play. Toiling about the rectory garden, his performance is subtle and yet somehow captivating. Thanks to Reed’s direction there is a pervasive melancholy, with several beautifully staged moments, including a unpretentious, yet emotionally resonate, scene to conclude the first act.
Anna Schroeder’s set and properties design is simple yet affecting (although even a novice green thumb will know immediately nothing will grow inside the shallow boxes Samuel tends which diminishes the metaphor). Phil Miguel’s lighting design accentuates, and Luke Ertman’s sound design is disappointingly sparser than it deserves.
In its first half, An Almost Holy Picture is an oddly soothing and quiet exploration of faith and hope under the sometimes-challenging circumstances life throws at us. By concentrating on a single aspect of Samuel Gentle’s life-changing moments in act two though, it leads to an unsatisfying whole.
An Almost Holy Picture by Heather McDonald. Directed by Ron Reed. On stage at Pacific Theatre (1440 W 12th Ave, Vancouver) until March 3. Visit https://pacifictheatre.org for tickets and information.