Reviewed by David Spencer
Count on composer-performer-writer Rinde Eckert to challenge your sense of norm or category. As he (and director David Schweizer) did with his most deservedly lauded work, ...And God Created Great Whales, he has created something that isn't a musical, isn't a play, isn't performance art, yet combines aspects of all to create a work that is abstract and impressionist in design, yet provocatively comprehensible as a narrative. Indeed, with Horizion he seems to have created the stage equivalent of a non-genre character-study novel; you know the kind I mean: they're more about internal life than external event and, if they're good, they're exhilarating to read and almost impossible to dramatize effectively, because the gap between the writer-to-reader communication of a roiling consciousness in minutiae and the pull-back and reconceptualization required for a more literal (and less literary) acted presentation is enormous.
Yet Eckert pulls it off. His character study is about a minister, Rhinehart Poole, who is facing his last day of teaching ethics at a seminary—he's been fired for promoting controversial ideas. What's fresh about this scenario is that his ideas are not sacreligious, perverse or even subversive. They in fact go right to the very heart of the matter—that being the nature and composition of true faith—and demand of the student a deeper level of thought. (He talks, for example, about how true faith is strengthened, rather than weakened, by doubt, because doubt impels one to examine the precepts by which he lives, rather than just accepting them.) Rhinehart's crisis—and here's the magic trick—is wholly internal and even a little small, dramaturgically speaking: he's just not sure he can go back to preaching on the pulpit. He's a creature of the classroom, and fears that what he has to offer is out of place in a church, delivered to "regular" parishioners. (Just before uploading this review, I read that Poole's philosophical perspective is modeled after that of Reinhold Niebuhr [1892-1971], generally acknowledged as the most influential American theologian of his time.)
Yet, with music weaving in and out of the non-linear, often leitmotif-drenched proceedings, hinting at various genres yet always maintaining a mysterious identity of its own, plus hugely symbolic staging involving concrete building blocks (the foundation of faith?), plus two other actor-singers () playing various ancillary roles—Rhinehart's wife, father, brother, boss and two Irish construction workers in a play Rhinehart obsessively keeps working on—somehow this small crisis of conscience is rendered very large.
All this said, Horizon may not be everybody's cup of communion wine. It is abstract, it is impressionistic, it does require you to go into a kind of Zen mode and—ironically—let the thing happen without questioning it. Thinking about it later and debating it, yes, to be sure. But during the actual watching, simply trusting that there's a direction and a point to it all, and being willing to let it emerge.
Which is what the show is about, really.
Which is the core of Rhinehart's journey.
Which is how Rinde Eckert gets us into his head, into his soul.
In a way, Horizon may be the best character study novel you'll never read...