“Can all sinners be saved?” This is the question that Paul Kodiak’s The Messenger attempts to answer within the span of an hour. The play opens in darkness with a man yelling off stage. When the lights come up we discover we are in the early morning hours of a prison and we are looking in on an inmate named Jimmy (played by J Domenic DeMuro). The man yelling turns out to be Angel (James Ceceres), one of the guards, and thus the action of the play begins. It is not far into the show that we learn that Jimmy is a death row inmate and that he only has this one hour to live. Jimmy has requested a priest to be with him on his final day, however once the priest, Father Keating (Dante Giammarco) appears we learn that Jimmy has never said a word to the man though he visits regularly. For much of the beginning of the play Father Keating and Angel talk at Jimmy while he stays silent, thus antagonizing both men in very different ways. Father Keating wants Jimmy’s final confession, Angel wants Jimmy to say something so that he has someone to argue with, meanwhile Jimmy just bides his time not speaking. Of course, eventually Jimmy opens up to Father Keating and we learn a little about what makes this man tick. The final moments of his life are spent deeply connecting with another human being and then he completes his death sentence as Angel takes him out of the cell.
The production itself attempts to answer some pretty big questions about the internal struggle between good and bad that all of us go through. Is Jimmy inherently bad, or did he simply do a bad thing? Has Father Keating always been a good worthy priest or had he ever committed a sin from which he could not heal? And is it possible that the death row inmate and the priest could find common behavioral or emotional ground if they just had enough time to speak and listen to one another? The relationship that Jimmy and Father Keating are able to create within a very small period of time is fascinating to observe. The answers to these questions sit heavily over Father Keating and Jimmy as Jimmy’s life comes to a close.
What was refreshing about Kodiak’s show is that it did not attempt to take a stand on either side of the death penalty. The last hour of Jimmy’s life was not about him proving whetheror not he deserved a lesser sentence, it simply dealt with how he was coping with the fact that he only had a singular hour left. The Messenger focuses on how Jimmy views his life through the eyes of Father Keating, using the priest’s experiences to judge his own time on earth.
Both DeMuro and Giammarco do a nice job at establishing a relationship within the small time frame of an hour. While at times each are a bit inconsistent in their overall portrayal of Jimmy and Father Keating they have some really nice moments on stage of genuine concern and fear for each other; one of the most moving is the final confession shared between the two of them before Jimmy gets taken away.
Overall The Messenger had some weaknesses both textually and performance wise, but the framework is certainly there to move forward and create an incredibly prolific commentary on the fine line between saints and sinners.