The Preacher and the Shrink by playwright Merle Good may well be one the most incredulous plays I have ever seen. The plot centers on Dr. Michael Hamilton (Tom Galantich), a grief stricken minister from rural Pennsylvania whose wife recently passed away from breast cancer. His mentally unstable daughter Constance (Adria Vitlar) has returned home from New York City to rekindle the estranged relationship with her father. Both are dealing with their loss in different ways: Constance copes by being angry and disbelieving in God; Dr. Hamilton mourns in a stoic, quiet way while his once solid, now floundering Christian faith is tested. So far, it has a basis for decent Theological debate. Here is where it takes a turn into the ridiculous zone: Constance has been seeking aid from Dr. Alexandra Bloomfield (Dee Hoty), a caring, but somewhat hard-nosed psychiatrist who just happens to be visited upon by Constance’s Daddy. Bloomfield starts counseling Hamilton and they soon “remember” that they were once childhood sweethearts. Will they rekindle this long past romance? Are you still awake? If so, you’ll soon be zooming down another path of unintentional silliness. Constance makes a sexual harassment claim against one of her father’s church pastors, Rev. David Wheeler (Mat Hostetler). She is willing to drop the charges against him if– well, I won’t ruin it. This play has done enough damage to itself.
This hackneyed script is chock full of pithy lines including, “Grief can tear a family apart”, “I used to think a scar was a sign of hope, but now I think a scar is just a scar” and the ever- so- insightful, “Life can take many turns.” For audience members, a U-turn from the theater might be the best direction.
Luckily, there are a few redemptive qualities in this ill-conceived mess. Vitlar is a promising young actor who gives layered dimensions to her mentally conflicted Constance. Three time Tony award nominee Hoty makes the best of bad writing by delivering Bloomfield’s lines with the best professionalism she can muster. Brian Prather provides a practical, but pleasing set that works
nicely as Bloomfield’s psychiatric office.
Good’s purpose for authoring The Preacher and the Shrink is no doubt well intended. The themes of spiritual conflict and questioning Deity can make for gripping, thoughtful drama. But here, his foundation is flimsy from the start and continues to falter throughout. While it won’t shake any religious beliefs you may have, you may leave questioning your own faith in choosing a better play.
The Preacher and the Shrink is playing now at the Beckett Theater on Theater Row (410 W. 42nd street between 9th and 10th) Tickets available at the box office, online at: https://www.telecharge.com/eventoverview.aspx?cityName=NY%20City%20Area&productId=9918 or by phone: 212-239-6200.