Racing Demon

A WBBN News Radio 78 Theatre Review by Sherman Kaplan
Broadcast September 25, 1996

"God? Where are You? I wish you'd talk to me". And, from that plaintive prayer proceeds British playwright David Hare's exploration of faith, and exposition and disillusionment, Racing Demon. The Reverend Lionel Espy played by Mike Nussbaum utters that prayer, not sure that it or any such plea for Divine assistance will help. His doubts are at the center of Racing Demon's examination of crisis in the Church of England, and by extrapolation, England itself.

Espy, a kindly soft spoken older man leads a team of three other Anglican priests working in a poor tenement district of London. Among them is the Rev Harry Henderson, a secret homosexual, The Reverend Donald Bacon, known to his friends as "Streaky," and the youngest of the four, The Reverend Tony Ferris, a firebrand zealot, unable to justify an affair with the woman he decides to leave. "There is," he declares to the chagrin of his colleagues, "a reason for suffering." It is clear that Rev. Espy feels virtually helpless to do anything about the human misery he sees around him. Ferris believes he should be replaced, but Espy relies upon a promise from his Bishop that nothing will be done to change the status quo.

Racing Demon's central issue is one that all people of faith, and probably those without, must deal with. It is the role of good works as opposed to ritual observance. For Espy, the true meaning of being a Christian is in the imitation of Christ as he sees it, helping the poor, who otherwise would do without. Ferris, while not ignoring social justice, is the more doctrinaire, while the two other colleagues seem to do whatever it is they do without much conviction one way or the other, except for their firm loyalty to their friend, Lionel.

Director Ina Marlowe has assembled a first rate cast for this first production of the merged Organic and Touchstone Theatre Companies. Among supporting cast members, William J. Norris is outstanding as The Rt. Rev Charlie Allen, Espy's superior. Allen is a traditionalist, angered by admission of women to the clergy, toleration of homosexuality and most of all, the failure of his long time friend, Lionel, to conform.

Nussbaum plays his part with subtle intonation, always informing his audience, just as Hare's script lays out its subplots. Though talky in the manner of British playwrights, Racing Demon is well textured as the play explores its themes. Racing Demon continues through October 27 at The Touchstone Theatre Building, 2851 North Halsted Street.

Back to previous page

site by tremolo photo