"Points of Arrival" is a play infused with religious intensity.
And that's not surprising: 1) It is produced by Still Point Theatre Collective, a company that describes itself as a ministry of a Chicago Lutheran church; 2) it is being presented at the Theatre Project in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Viva House, the Catholic Worker house in Southwest Baltimore; and 3) it is about Jean Donovan, the lay missionary who was raped and murdered, together with three American nuns, in El Salvador in 1980.
Playwright Paul Amandes uses only three actors to tell Donovan's story, from the time she gives up her cushy accountant's job in Cleveland to her struggles to become part of a terror-ridden Third World country.
Lisa Wagner -- who conceived and researched the piece, beginning with a trip to El Salvador -- delivers a fervent portrayal of the driven and dedicated central character. And Ned O'Reilly and Anita Stenger Dacanay adroitly play all the other roles -- friends, relatives, co-workers, heroes and villains.
The play attempts several unconventional approaches, with varying results. The chronology, which occasionally jumps back and forth in time, can be a bit confusing. But Dan Ostling's basic tent-like set design is versatile and striking, especially when the chief props -- a few wooden crates and boards -- are combined in the end to create the simple image of a cross.
Director Beau O'Reilly introduces another effective touch in the first act when Dacanay and O'Reilly stand back-to-back presenting the conflicting points of view that Donovan confronts daily. Dacanay, as fellow missionary Sister Dorothy Kazel, speaks of the necessity of faith while O'Reilly, as the brutal local commandant, insists that the religious leader whom Donovan most reveres, the subsequently assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero, is a Communist. The production would benefit from more examples of such trenchant staging.
Although the Salvadoran government convicted five national guardsmen of the murders of Donovan and the three nuns, there are still many disturbing aspects to the case. In July, three of the five killers were released from prison after serving less than half of their 30-year sentences. And, this past summer, the victims' families learned that two retired Salvadoran generals, believed to have been involved in cover-up attempts to protect the murderers, now live in the United States.
Appending some of this information to the end of "Points of Arrival" would make the material even more chilling and topical. First, however, the piece could stand some trimming (particularly in the scenes between Donovan and her brother). The script also tends to get preachy -- probably a built-in hazard with this subject matter. Overall, however, the play's message of spirituality, faith, goodness and the importance of fighting oppression is not only earnest, but moving.
(Besides tonight's performance, tomorrow night Still Point Collective will present "Qadishtu," a one-woman show about Mary Magdalene, written and performed by Dacanay. Patrons with ticket stubs from "Points of Arrival" will be admitted for $5.)
'Points of Arrival'
Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.
When: 8 tonight ("Qadishtu" 8 p.m. tomorrow)
Pub Date: 10/23/98