Written and directed by Ashley Audette, “The Twisted Cross” brings an unusual twist into the first annual Midwinter Madness Short Play Festival. With the screams pleading for help and forgiveness in the darkness, the audience is thrilled to know what is going on. What they come across is an unusual sketch about what happens after people die, and they leave the theatre perplexed wondering why, if the idea for the plot appears to be interesting and eternal, they have a feeling that something in the play went wrong.
One of those plays in which all but one character dies during the performance, “The Twisted Cross” is a great allusion to life, as everyone passes to “a better world” sooner or later. However, the scenes of parting and meeting with relatives who passed away seem to be over dramatized when they recognize and don’t recognize each other. Even though no one knows what life after death is like, several links of the logical chain seem to be missing here.
Killed in a car accident by a drunk driver, Jordan (Luke Camp) finds himself in an unusual setting of purgatory: formally dressed detective-like young woman with a folder containing all the information about the “criminals” (people who recently died) question each of them, “Do you want forgiveness?” Not only is he informed that he is expected to be her successor, but he also has to say good-bye to his beloved Sarah (Alyssa Evers) whom he can’t stop kissing even at that emotionally strained moment.
The confusion is: why is Jordan chosen out of all people who died that day? It is never explained clearly. We only find out that before him his sister, Mary Ellen (Caitlin Boyle), was “the detective,” and he didn’t know who she was. If the idea were a flag, it would be missing its flagstaff here, trembling in the air like a colorful piece of cloth that can be easily carried away.
Another question is: why does Jordan have to see off his girlfriend and his sister, Nicolette (Jillian Rorrer)? When will he be relieved from his duty? These questions overwhelm the audience and seem to be beyond comprehension.
Aside from that, the story is quite simple. Sarah and Jordan have a date in his backyard. They kiss passionately (not a frequent thing for a play; happens more often in movies) and tell each other about their love. The scene feels awkward and over dramatized until later Sarah confesses that she quit cheerleading, of which she was fond of, because other girls laughed at her for dating Jordan. This moment tells us more about Sarah’s feelings than all the kisses in the world ever could.
A phone call from Nicolette breaks their idyllic relationship. Jordan has to rush to a bar to protect his sister, and Sarah follows him. They never get home that day, and the only survivor, Nicolette, will never forgive herself for getting everyone in such trouble.
As far as the setting is concerned, it constantly changes: Jordan’s family’s house, backyard, bar, purgatory, cemetery etc. These alterations make the action more suspenseful and engaging, and they are the strongest points of the play, along with the passionate acting. Every character comes alive. Playful and calm alone with each other and grief-stricken when they learn about the accident, Jordan’s parents, Helen (Anna Legwood) and George (Jon Vertuno) come out as the most realistic and likable characters in the play. Nicolette is the most contradictory one: in one of her monologues, she admits that she doesn’t consider herself pretty, but as she grows apart from her parents, she sleeps her way to Hollywood and becomes an Oscar nominee, as though trying to prove to the world that she is beautiful and deserves attention. She is the audience’s least favorite, as she curses often and acts like a spoiled brat, even though we know that she is deeply hurt by guilt.
Another character that deserves attention is the drunk driver who caused the accident, Brendan (James-Matthew Rosano). He sounds poorly educated and puts f-words into every sentence, even when he calls Nicolette and confesses, “I f…ing love you.” However, when it’s his turn to go, he asks for forgiveness for being aloof to his parents and mean to his sister, for being good for nothing and for killing two people in that ill-fated accident. Brendan sounds sincere, and he is heading to heaven, which outrages Jordan.
This is an interesting moment in the play because even though the play on the whole is at variance with Christian ideas, the character’s repentance and absolution reminds us the story about a prodigal son who came back to his father and was forgiven. Apparently, a twisted cross is still a cross, just in a slightly different form.
All in all, the play depicts an uncommon perspective on what happens when we die, which is definitely worth knowing about, and it is also about humans with simple life, who lose their loved ones, which is a great theme that we will never be tired of. But, as it has enormous potential and some ground ideas, “The Twisted Cross” needs to be developed further in order to be loved by the viewers and reappear on the stages of New York City.