Most musicals don’t designate a Medieval exorcist as their heroine — but most musicals aren’t written by Grace McLean. “In the Green,” running now at Wayward Artist through April 30th, is a trance-like 90-minute experience about the life of Hildegard von Bingen, who was locked in a cell with her mentor, the anchoress Jutta von Sponheim, for years as a girl.
In 2020, IN THE GREEN won the Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theater, and was nominated for seven Lucille Lortel Awards with author, Grace McLean, winning Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Jutta. The show is presently at Wayward Artists in Santa Ana through April 30th amid an outpouring of anticipated impetuosity by the public and anticipated critical acclaim.
Directed by Anna Miles, choreographed by Emily-Mae Kamp and musically directed by Diane King Vann, the concept of the musical emphasizes the storytelling singularity of McLean, a standout of “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812,” whose writing sensibilities always manage to find their own flavor of weird. Even though the story is told in sort of an allegorical way, many of the other essential elements within could be described as fantastical.
Saint Hildegard von Bingen was one of the most powerfully gifted figures of the Middle Ages: a 12th-century writer, composer, healer, naturalist, theologian and visionary in an era when most women were simply married and written off. But you don't learn much about her achievements in “In the Green.” Instead, this ambitious chamber musical attempts to tell her origin story, focusing on the three decades, starting in childhood, that she spent entombed in a cloister’s cell at a Benedictine monastery in Germany.
As a young girl, medieval saint, healer, visionary, exorcist, and composer Hildegard von Bingen was tithed to the church and locked in a cloister’s cell after demonstrating a preternatural sensitivity to the world around her. Sequestered with Hildegard is Jutta (Amanda Godoy), a woman who has spent her life secluded in an effort to recover herself after a deep trauma by forming her personhood in a space devoid of secular living. This space is a cell, in which Hildegard, like, Jutta, was to literally and figuratively dig her own grave in the name of divine enlightenment.
“In the Green” starts with a hymnal song ("O Virga ac Diadema"). The actual storyline begins with Jutta in her cell reading her last rites, choosing to live the rest of her life as a dead person and receiving only food and water and preparing for Hildegard's arrival ("Death Ceremony").
Ms. Godoy has created a shattered version of her character in the form of three pieces: Eye (Lily Edwards), Mouth (Audrey Crabaño), and Hand (Jess Ward), and throughout her time with Jutta, she is encouraged to reject the needs of her body as a way of reckoning with her grief — to become whole. Hildegard discovers Jutta’s own source of grief, her Shadow (in a staggering vocal performance by Abrianna Lawrence), and realizes that perhaps living in isolation and neglecting her own humanity is not the solution she was meant to find.
Originally, Hildegard expresses her resistance to staying in Jutta's cell and desire to go home, before describing how she ultimately wants to be "whole" ("If I Had a Knee"). Jutta then says she too was once broken too and says she will guide Hildegard into becoming whole and "free," with Hildegard agreeing ("The Rule"). Time passes, and Mouth expresses her hunger and her feelings of being inside the cell for so long, before experiencing her first period ("I Am Hungry").
In response, Jutta explains that because of Eve’s actions all women must pay and "carry her curse in [their] blood," while also telling Mouth to repress her hunger to gain control over herself and become whole as she aims ("Eve"). More time passes, with Hildegard becoming more frustrated that she is still broken ("Ritual"). Jutta continues to teach Hildegard lessons to become whole, this time saying that they will spend more time dead than alive and advising her to stop wanting things, to stop sleeping, and continue digging since life is painful anyway ("Little Life").
While digging, Shadow is found in the Underground, and tells Hildegard that she can join Shadow in the Underground ("Underground"). Realizing that Shadow is Underground because she too was broken by her trauma, they try to encourage her to share her memories so Shadow can become whole, to which Shadow refuses ("Light Undercover").
Shadow and Hildegard move from the Underground back into Jutta's cell ("O Viridissima Virga"). Emboldened by Hildegard, Eye, Hand, and Mouth, Shadow divulges some of her feelings and the sensations she remembers ("Light Undercover/In the Green (Reprise)").
Meanwhile, Jutta steadfastly refuses to acknowledge anything Hildegard or Shadow say. Jutta reflects on her own life, saying she's "done all the things [she's] supposed to" and yet cannot see the light like Hildegard or Shadow, but is grateful for her life all the same. She expresses maternal love for Hildegard, before dying ("The Ripening"). Hildegard, Eye, Hand, and Mouth reflect on Jutta's teachings while grieving their mentor's death ("Forgiveness"). Hildegard leaves the cell to experience what she's "never known before."
Ms. Edwards, Crabaño and Ward find synchronicity between Ms. Godoy’s demanding harmonies and the physicality of their individual effigies, navigating the piece in perfect tandem. Ms. Godoy masterfully sings with wonderfully unnerving punctuations in an effect which implies that Jutta’s solution for enlightened wholeness is inherently flawed, meaning she is just as internally fractured, or broken, as Hildegard is upon entering the cell for the first time.
The cell represents an entirely new dimension, accentuated by Alecia Bennett’s polarizing lighting, with Avery Tang’s creative scenic manifestations depicting a vast landscape within a crawl space between this life and another. Anais Azul’s sound design and sonic complexity is also remarkably enhanced, often resonating and consuming the audience in unsettling cacophony.
“In the Green” concludes in a profound, satisfying ending, with a cyclical storytelling gesture in which Hildegard finds herself back where she began her journey, but now as an entirely different person.
THE WAYWARD ARTIST, PRESENTS, “IN THE GREEN” with Book, Music & Lyrics by GRACE MCLEAN; Original Orchestrations by GRACE MCLEAN AND KRIS KUKUL; Director ANNA MILES; Musical Direction DIANE KING VANN; Asst. Director ELIZABETH GIMPLE; Choreographer EMILY-MAE KAMP; Sound/Musician ANAIS AZUL; Scenic Designer AVERY TANG; Lighting Designer ALECIA BENNETT; Stage Manager MYKAELA STERRIS; Asst. Stage Manager MARIA RODRIGUEZ; Dramaturg ANDREA DECKER; Artistic Director CRAIG TYRL; Managing Director CRAIG HOLLAND.
WITH: AMANDA GODOY as Jutta, ABRIANNA LAWRENCE as Shadow, JESS WARD as Hand, LILY EDWARDS as Eye, AUDREY CRABAÑO as Mouth.
IN THE GREEN will be presented from April 14th through April 30th at Wayward Artist, 125 N Broadway in Santa Ana. Performances are Thurs/Fri/Sat at 7:30PM and Sundays at 2PM. For tickets and further information call 657-205-6273 or see www.thewaywardartist.org/
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report