It is part poem, part prayer service, and part therapy session, but the first thing that will strike you about From Divorce to Restoration is its name. Restoration? Really? Aside from death, divorce is the human event least likely to result in a return to the status quo ante. The best we can hope for is to become sadder but wiser, but most folks end up just sadder. And, for many, it’s worse: ending up broke, broken, dispised by progeny, alienated from friends, with empty spaces inside where hope and optimism used to be. But that, after all, is the territory From Divorce to Restoration seeks to mine.
The play follows the experiences of three women — Bathsheba (Bathsheba Smithen, who is also the playwright), Talaya (Talaya S. Simpson) and Shannon (Shannon Webster) as they seek to find their footing after traumatic divorces. In each instance, the woman is left bewildered — wasn’t I good enough? — and sad, remembering the good and loving times they had with their husbands (or imagined they had with their husbands) and feeling the hole in their hearts.
From Divorce to Restoration closes July 28, 2019. Details and tickets
And — not to give anything away, but this is apparent from the first few notes of recorded music — this is an exposition into the Christian religion, and the clear punch line is that only the love of Jesus Christ is ultimately reliable, and it is always reliable. The play explores Bathsheba’s dilemma in great detail, and to do so Smithen takes on four personas — “Bathsheba”, a sophisticated and somewhat arrogant woman who dwells on the injustice done her, “Sheba”, who is Bathsheba at five and who pines for the storybook relationship that her mother promises awaits her, “Salathiel,” a spiritual guide, and “Jan”, who seems to serve the same function for Bathsheba that Lear’s fool plays for Lear in that play. Bathsheba’s former husband has entered a happy and successful relationship with a new lover, and Bathsheba cannot fathom why God would permit this, since she is so good and they are so bad. The parallel with the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18: 9-14 is inescapable.
The cannon-voiced Ms. Smithen achieves good separation among her characters, but she sometimes overwhelms the room, which is acoustically more appropriate for a meeting than a stage play. Particularly when she plays Jan, who carries a sneer in her voice, she can be hard to understand. Simpson and Webster, playing at a more subdued pitch, fare better, though Simpson’s character has an emotional moment which Simpson renders with great effectiveness.
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At ninety minutes, From Divorce to Restoration goes on too long. It is about three-quarters divorce and one-quarter restoration, and all three characters have essentially the same dilemma: they have been abandoned by their husbands, whom they still love, and thus the world makes no sense to them. It is sad and painful, but also redundant. And occasionally the play takes a frolic and detour; Smithen, as Jan, shows off her dance moves for about five minutes. She’s good, but the interlude doesn’t advance the story, and that’s fatal for what should be a short play.
What is striking about From Divorce to Restoration is that though the details are different, the theme is similar to much of the therapeutic advice currently given to people who have suffered a permanent rupture in their primary relationship — which is to find the wellsprings of love not in another person, but in one’s self. To say we must love ourselves in spite of all our human imperfections is not much different than saying that Jesus loves us notwithstanding our sins. We cannot rely on other people to define our self-worth — or, as it says in Scripture, “put not your trust in Princes.” (Psalm 146:3)
From Divorce to Restoration by Bathsheba Smithen, directed by Kristina Buck and Michelle Talkington, featuring Bathsheba Smithen, Talaya S. Simpson, and Shannon Webster . Set design: Robert Talkington . Sound designer: Ronald Thornton . Makeujp: Reva Brown . Photographer: Douglas Jacobs . Crew: Trinity Goss, Charlisha Manning, and Alorah Van Tassell . Stage manager: Michelle Talkington . Produced by Michelle Talkington and Bathsheba Smithen for the 2019 Capital Fringe Festival . Reviewed by Tim Treanor.