Although brought up in schools with a ‘Christian ethos’, my knowledge of Bible stories is very much limited to the big hitters (Christmas, Easter, Noah’s Arc). So I was concerned that this would limit my understanding or enjoyment of Testaments. But any fears were quickly proved unfounded as the flawless performances kept me gripped throughout.
Over the course of an intense hour, three stories are told by four characters. Each is a retelling of a Bible story, but now set within the context of modern-day America. We meet a man struggling with the fact his father, after speaking directly to God, almost sacrificed him, a pair of sisters who share horrific accounts of their abusive father and a man on death row who finds that Jesus is in the next cell.
Testament is set up as though it’s an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, or perhaps a group therapy session. It’s an ingenious device, allowing deeply intense monologues to be performed in a setting where you might expect such personal revelations. The set is simple, five chairs in a semi-circle in a church. But with subtle lighting and camera angles to enhance the atmosphere, the stories and performances by the talented cast are given the space to shine.
The leader of the session, played by Desiree Rodriguez, performs only in song. She has an incredible voice, giving the original blues and gospel songs real depth and emotion. Her songs bookend each story, allowing time to reflect on the horror that each has divulged. And as each character finishes their story, they join in with the song as they try to come to terms with their revelation. It is incredibly moving at times.
All four members of the cast offer breathtakingly polished performances. Even in the context of live theatre, a twenty-minute monologue can often feel too long, but this is never the case on watching these performances. Doron JéPaul Mitchell, the son almost sacrificed by his father, delivers raw emotion and is utterly captivating. Biko Eisen-Martin is equally enthralling to watch, playing the man on Death Row with Jesus in the next cell; his anger is palpable. These two stories are upsetting, but the performances by the two men make it worth the distress.
The third story shared is equally appalling, however begins with some light relief as two sisters, played by Jessica Giannone and Cori Hundt, reminisce on how they both tackled Thanksgiving celebrations with their large families. Following on from such distressing stories, it is funny to see the disbelief on the faces around them. But again, once we hear the full truth of their story, it is hideously shocking. I audibly gasped a few times during this section of the play, a sign of the wonderful performances of Giannone and Hundt.
Testament is an outstanding play, the whole cast are incredible. Although I had initial reservations on whether this would be a play that I could connect with or enjoy because of the religious background, the powerful storytelling at its heart can be enjoyed no matter your religious views.
Written by: Tristan Bernays
Directed by: Lucy Jane Atkinson
Produced by: Ian Harkins, Cori Hundt and Rafe Terrizzi
Testament is available to stream until 24 April. Booking details can be found on Via Brooklyn’s website below.