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Holy Ghosts, at Heartland Studio Theater.

When Nancy Shedman flees her ill-tempered husband to join a charismatic sect, her irate spouse follows to fetch home the household goods she's taken, little realizing that his errand will land him in the middle of a congregation that deals in visions, seizures, glossolalia, strychnine swallowing, and snake stroking. As the frenzy escalates, however, the skeptical husband finds himself touched by the fervor of their intense faith.

Being genuinely seized by religion demands a steadily building tension, and dramatic representations of this experience need it too, as well as a clearly perceived motive for each person's participation in such eccentric practices. Unfortunately, Carl Occhipinti's staging of Romulus Linney's Holy Ghosts meets neither requirement, each spurt of emotion struggling to emerge from a lifeless stasis. Most of the cast show no appreciation for character development, subtextual interpretation, or Linney's lyrical regionalisms: they glibly recite their florid speeches with the minimal inflections of newscasters (except Occhipinti himself, who overacts shamelessly in the role of the haunted Brother Specter). Only Mark Anthony Morgan and Brian A. McGee as a pair of ex-convicts even hint at the play's powerful potential.

The value of faith in contemporary life is a question well worth exploring--one recalls last season's thoughtful Charisma--but this production has neither the skill nor the energy to be anything but a revival meeting in need of CPR.

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