Sept. 14, 2007
Eckert tackles belief and doubt in acclaimed 'Horizon' performance
University of Iowa music alumnus and Iowa City native Rinde Eckert, a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in drama, will return to the UI to perform "Horizon," his critically acclaimed performance about doubt and faith, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, in Hancher Auditorium.
The audience will be invited to remain after the event for a discussion with the performers.
Eckert will preview "Horizon" in a free event at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, in the Religious Studies Lounge on the third floor of UI Gilmore Hall.
In "Horizon" -- described by Village Voice critic Michael Feingold as "the season's best musical" and by Theatermania as "a riveting piece of theater" -- Eckert portrays Reinhart Poole, a theologian modeled on influential 20th-century Christian theologian Reinhold Neibuhr, the advocate of what became known as "Christian realism."
Faced with the loss of his 25-year faculty position at a seminary, for some unexplained but ominous reason, Poole's crisis of faith -- he still believes in God but he doubts himself -- propels the audience on a dizzyingly theatrical tour of his spiritual thinking. With the assistance of two other actors, who inhabit multiple characters, this journey is complete with story-theater enactments of parables, play-within-a-play allegories, re-enacted memories, and songs that range from arias to hymns to hillbilly to barbershop.
Eckert wrote, "Reinhart Poole is working on his last lecture. During the night he will talk with his wife Patricia; he will imagine himself teaching, he will recall conversations with his father and mother and he will speak with the ghost of his brother. Reinhart will wonder if he has the patience and restraint for a ministry outside the classroom. He wonders if he has the talent for the life of a pastor. He fears he has become too accustomed to the control and freedoms of his academic world, his marketplace of Christian ideas within the seminary. This night in the life of Reinhart Poole is a kind of desert he will have to cross; it's a deserted road he has to walk down."
"Horizon," developed at the University of Nebraska in 2005 and premiered in June 2007 at the New York Theater Workshop, was directed by David Schweizer, who also directed the world premiere of "Versailles" for the University Theatres Mainstage at the UI last season.
Feingold's Village Voice review of the New York production continued, "'Horizon's' combination of a playful spirit and a deep inner passion supplies, at least to me, the joy with which musicals are supposed to send you home."
In a review headlined, "The Eternal Vaudeville of the Spiritual Mind," critic Ben Brantley wrote in the New York Times, "even the fiercest secularist should find pleasure in this engaging performance piece, which is set in the seminary-without-walls of one man's mind."
Of Eckert's artistry, Brantley wrote, "Eckert... is undeniably expert in anchoring elusive ideas to the point at which they become graspable. The forms he uses are often deliberately simple, precisely because the content is anything but.
"...he finds vivifying parallels between the theological quest of one man and the theatrical quest to capture and illuminate life. In 'Horizon,' the dynamics of art and religion are remarkably and nobly the same."
Playwright Matthew Freeman, saying this was a production he could "recommend without reservation," wrote in his blog, "What I found most compelling about the evening was that it portrays a Christian scholar as a formidable intellectual. In the current cultural climate, the political right has inspired a sort of rubbernecking instinct when it comes to public Christian 'representatives.' It goes without saying that the tradition of religious scholarship has taken a bit of a beating in both the press and in the political realm. Hackneyed phrases such as 'I look to my faith' are so pat from politicians (on both sides of the aisle) that they've taken on the tone of placation. The idea, for example, that the parables and allegories in the Bible still have some heft, some ethical power, is a rather stunning one to see on the New York stage.
"'Horizon,' in this climate, would seem to be political. It isn't. It is concerned only, it appears, with humankind and its resistance to, or misunderstanding of, its own search for underlying meanings. Christianity here is beside the point, in a manner of speaking. More to the point is the desire for a religious human being to embrace reason, and to seek to inspire reason in others. It speaks to a large tradition and contingent of religious people who use their faith to find understanding, as opposed to using faith to dispel their responsibility as seekers and thinkers."
The Hancher performance of "Horizon" coincides with the beginning of Eckert's UI residency through a Creative Campus Innovations Grant that Hancher was awarded by the Association of Performing Arts Presenters -- the largest national service and advocacy organization for the performing arts -- with funds from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
In a collaboration between Hancher and the UI Center for Macular Degeneration (CMD) in the UI Hospitals and Clinics, the Writing Program of the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and the Department of Theatre Arts, Eckert will develop and perform a play that explores the experience of visual impairment and vision loss.
Eckert, an alumnus of the UI School of Music -- where his father, Robert Eckert, taught for many years -- has performed in Hancher many times, and his work as a solo artist and with the Paul Dresher Ensemble have been commissioned and/or premiered by the auditorium, including "Slow Fire," "Pioneers," "Power Failure," "The Gardening of Thomas D" and "The Idiot Variations." He also spent a semester in residence at the Department of Theatre Arts to develop and direct "A Tale We Told the Queen," and his writing was included in the University Theatres world premiere of "Versailles."
In 2005 Eckert received the American Academy of Arts & Letters' prestigious Marc Blitzstein Award given to a lyricist/librettist, and he was awarded a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship. His work has been recognized in San Francisco with two Critics Circle and two Isadora Duncan Awards, with a special Obie Award and two Drama Desk Award Nominations in New York, and with the Eliot Norton Award in Boston for Best Production by a Large Resident Company.
The 2007 Pulitzer Prize nomination came for "Orpheus X," produced and commissioned by American Repertory Theatre.
Eckert has also composed and performed three uncategorizable CDs of songs: "Finding My Way Home," "Do The Day Over" and "Story In Story Out."
The Oct. 4 performance is supported by Himie Voxman through the University of Iowa Foundation.
Tickets for "Horizon" are $36/33/30; UI student $32.40/15; senior citizen $32.40/29.70/27; youth $25.20/23.10/21.
Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.
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