Cleanliness, Godliness, and Madness, A User’s Guide and an Audience’s Visual Storybook (4 Stars)
by Nisreen Galloway, @nissycookies
In Cleanliness, Godliness, and Madness ( A User’s Guide) the Black Box Theatre is transformed into a safe space to discuss religion, political values, and overall to laugh.
Set in the early 2000s, the two main characters, Mary and Grace, are products of a high society American lifestyle and hold dear to their conservative Christian values. The story revolves around their platonic and sometimes sexual relationship, their marital and family relationships, and most importantly their relationship with God and the political America around them. From the beginning, the show sheds a humorous if not harsh light on the conservative right, but as Charlotte Meehan, the shows Artistic Director and playwright states “..I’m not standing above Mary and Grace, judging them from on high. Rather i know them well, love them, and pity their real-life counterparts that make up parts of all of us.” This is especially brought to heart by the finale where both characters have arced from somewhat unsure in their beliefs to strong opposing views. As you watch their journey and growth throughout the show, it's clear the play is peeling back layers of their identities, not throwing them into strict boxes.
It's important to note that while the show is heavily satirical and comedic, many of the counter-balancing explosive moments discuss and explore serious issues ( i.e. domestic abuse, racial targeting, public shootings, etc.). The plot calls into center stage the question of Christian, conservative, and liberal values on these issues and may be a bit of a trigger warning for some audiences. This is not a kids show, but would be great to see with good friends as conservation starter or with family. There is a lot of implied nudity, a couple sexual scenes, and graphic real-world footage. The show is 90 minutes and has no intermission.
The two main characters, played by Stephanie Burlington Daniels and Veronica Anastasio Wiseman are captivating from start to finish, With a powerful script it could be easy for these two to rely on their lines, but so much is expressed in their every smile, nod, and nuanced tone that they really transform the show into something audiences deeply respond to. Moments of hearty laughter in the audience were often coupled with stark silence and that atmosphere was entirely in the master hands of these two ladies. There were several other characters in the show, but only one other appeared on stage for a brief moment. The others were weaved into the scenery in the digital screens and Mary and Grace interacted with them through pre-recorded sayings. Phone calls were projected on screen, the husbands were viewed on screen, and even more so, the kids were rarely seen and were mainly pre-recorded voices that Mary and Grace interacted with. All of this created an interesting paradox between the modern times of the show, and the 1950s era they were emulating. Children and women were to be seen not heard, but this play flips that on its axis as the women are the only ones in physical appearance and exist as more than homemakers and the children are heard not seen, while the husbands exist in this third digital dimension.
One of the most impressive things about Sleeping Weazel’s production was the choice of staging, light design, and costume. The stage was set simply with four large hanging geometrical shapes that each were transformed throughout the show into digital screens. The most additional staging brought along was one sofa chair alternatively used a couch in the house to a hospital bed. Costume changes ( which were minimal: a dress here, a belt there) were mostly done on stage or in the wings and at one point small props were slid onto the stage for dramatic effect. The show has very few props and only 2 main costume changes, most of which are done on stage in muted light.
Overall, the play was really entertaining, a roller coaster of emotions. 4 stars. See sleepingweazel.com!