nytheatre.com review by Case Aiken
August 13, 2011
The Fundamentalist, an award winning Finnish play by Juha Jokela making its English language debut at this year’s New York International Fringe Festival, is a thought-provoking, albeit at times ponderous, piece. Told from the vantage point of a retired minister, Markus (Adam Smith, Jr.), it recounts his struggles with faith and the influence one woman, Heidi (Anette Norgaard), has had on it. Markus recounts his relationship with this woman, with key scenes being acted out between the two of them, revealing the struggle that he faces between human sexuality and religion.
I appreciated how the show neither pulls any punches nor attempts to present a singular answer. The play is deeply personal. It highlights Markus’s professional life as a minister who speaks out against Fundamentalist Christians, as well as his personal life where his relationship with the much more conservative but seemingly malleable Heidi acts as a motivation for him to become even more vocal about his issues with the more ravenously faithful. Markus explores his past but never tries to paint himself as a hero, nor does he completely break down and present himself as a monster. He sees the harm he’s caused and doesn’t know how to right it. Every effort he makes to do the right thing is colored by his own feelings for Heidi. While he wants what in his mind is the best for her, it ultimately is only destructive.
I think The Fundamentalist is a very well developed discussion of religion versus human sexuality. In particular, Smith, as Markus, does a fantastic job with the extremely difficult material of the piece. Honestly, with a piece like this, technical elements are not particularly necessary, but set and lighting design by Starlet Jacobs and Bruce A. Kraemer respectively do a fine job of adding to the story. This is an example of a play with a very strong concept and great performances, however it is not an easy to watch play. It can be overly dark and there is little levity to offset the more painfully poignant moments. I think there are great points raised, but I would have liked some happier or more lighthearted scenes to balance them out. I can see why it won the Nordic Drama Award; the play is a solid work and I can fully recommend it to any audience member looking for a deeper discussion of religion.