Sanctuary | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Sanctuary, Circle Theatre. One man's heaven is another man's hell, as James C. Wall tells us in this cerebral dramatic comedy. An elaboration of Robert Browning's "The Bishop Orders His Tomb at St. Praxed's Church," it focuses on two bishops living out their afterlives inside the church they ran during the 15th century. One (John Simmons) is punctilious and high-strung, the other (Todd Cornils) alternately brooding and playful--a Catholic odd couple trapped in Sartre's No Exit. Newly dead Dorothy (Ann Followill) stumbles upon them while apparently playing through a hole of golf. As the two priests orient her to the celestial surroundings, they all share the life stories that led them to the same resting place.

Given the story-dictated constraints, there's not a lot of action or visual spectacle here. The actors, who take on multiple roles playing out the anecdotes, carry the full weight of the production, and they do so valiantly, even when the story starts unraveling chaotically. Cornils has by far the greatest challenge--playing adults, children, drunks, hicks, and a used-car salesman without shedding his priestly robes. Less shape-shifting is required of Simmons, though he shows a wide emotional range within his short list of characters. Followill, who must loosen up if she's to carry her weight, is clear and sharp-witted as Dorothy but can't seem to access the feminine vulnerability some of her other characters require.

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