Via Brooklyn Theatre Company: Testament Online
Originally, Testament not only appeared in London, but also starred its writer, Tristan Bernays. Streamed slightly later than initially billed, theatre company Via Brooklyn offer a strong revival with a stronger American cast. If only the camerawork could have compensated for the live theatre intimacy the show and performances crave and deserve.
The production is based around three stories that are adaptations of biblical narratives. Doron Mitchell is beautifully understated yet powerful in his role as Isaac, incredulous as he, like his Biblical namesake, relives the night his father tries to murder him as an act of religious sacrifice. Deliberately contrasting with that are the convivial sisters Mary (Jessica Giannone) and Jane (Cori Hundt). Their tale of vibrant community life turns cold though when their father takes them from the town (alluding to the destruction of Sodom in Genesis) and, after a night of drinking, rapes Mary. Even via streaming, Giannone and Hundt evoke the chills that would undoubtedly be felt if they were relating the experience person. Finally, Bilko Eisen-Martin memorably tells the story of a prisoner who, like the impenitent thief from the New Testament that his character is based on, finds himself on Death Row, next to a smiling Jesus-like cellmate whose firm belief in his Father offers scant comfort to the anguish-stricken Anthony.
The power in these performances comes from the cathartic quasi-confessional feel that each actor injects. It seems odd, therefore, that they are sat in chairs in an Alcoholics Anonymous-style circle in front of a large cross, as if they are undergoing therapy or united by the same experience. Each story is linked by the Bible, but these individual characters seem tormented by their situations rather than grappling with their relationships with God. If only this aesthetic had been dispatched in favour of allowing the actors to tell their stories and undergo their respective confessions directly to camera, as in the compelling Old Vic online re-staging of Faith Healer.
These shortcomings, though, do not detract from the deft skills of the cast. Each gives their story its distinct feel and provides their character their moment in the sun. Viewers should remember the actors’ names – whomever they play in the future, the performances will surely be captivating.
Testament is available to stream from 25th March until 24th April 2021. For further information or to book visit Via Brooklyn’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: