Published On: Mon, Mar 19th, 2012

A Jolting “High” at Parker Playhouse

By: Skip Sheffield

Addiction is not pretty.

Neither was the play “High,” which ran through March 4 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale. It was shocking, yes, even quite funny at times, but it was anything but a conventionally pleasurable experience.

Playwright Matthew Lombardo is in recovery himself and he obviously knows intimately the horrors of addiction, Addition does not just hurt the addict. It damages everyone and everything in its path.

I wanted to see “High” primarily because Kathleen Turner starred as Sister Jamison Connelly, a nun and recovering alcoholic who is pressured into counseling a 19-year-old drug addict named Cody Randall (Evan Jonigkeit).

Turner was torrid in her big screen breakthrough, “Body Heat’ in 1981. I last saw her as Tallulah Bankhead in “Tallulah!” at least 10 years ago at Coconut Grove Playhouse. Though she had thickened and coarsened, there was still an unmistakable allure to her It felt like a magnetic force when I met the actress face-to-face.

Turner is the first one onstage in “High” in spotlight silhouette in a monologue that begins, “When I was a girl…” I did not recognize her at first, but there is “that voice;” deeper than ever now, and that pretty face that grows more beautiful when she smiles.

Turner is perfect as Sister Jamison, a once-wild woman who still has dark shadows dogging her life. Although she is a nun she curses like a sailor. She has regrets but she does not dwell on them. She has focused her energy on helping others, which keeps her personal demons at bay.

Then Cody Randall (Evan Jonigkeit) unwillingly infiltrates Sister Jamison’s fortress of faith.

Cody is a homosexual drug addict and prostitute with a horrendous past. It is not by accident that Cody has shown up at the rectory of Father Michael Delpapp (Tim Altmeyer). The Father has a special connection to the wayward Cody; a relationship that unfolds in two acts as Sister Jamison gets closer and closer to the truth.

Truth is elusive even among the most highly-principled people such as Father Michael. It is almost impossible to face for a hardcore addict like Cody. An addict will lie, cheat, steal, commit unspeakable acts and even murder for that next fix. Evan Jonigkeit makes the horror palpably real in a searing, painfully raw performance.

In 12-step programs people are encouraged to confess their sins to a higher power. In a sense “High” is a confessional in the form of a play. It depicts the pain and depravity of the addict and those that enable him or her. It does not moralize, but it does allow that some find redemption through religious faith. Others find it when they find purpose in life. Some never find it. They do not survive.

“High” was a hit in New Haven, then it flopped on Broadway. It is simply too tough for the average audience, with all its foul language, sexual explicitness and a notable scene of full male nudity. I think it found its audience in Fort Lauderdale, thought, judging by the mostly-male cheers at the standing ovation.