Religion is taking a beating on Broadway this season. That isn’t to say theater is pointing its gun at God, but rather shining a light on faith and daring audiences to make their own informed conclusions. First, the new musical The Book of Mormon takes religion out of its precisely manufactured packaging and encourages that we just believe. Now in the new dark drama High, playwright Matthew Lombardo asks the audience—how much do you believe?
In High, Kathleen Turner stars as Sister Jamison, a foul-mouthed, ex-alcoholic nun working at an addiction center. Father Michael (Stephen Kunken) assigns her a new patient, Cody Randall (Evan Jonigkeit), who will prove to be the ultimate test of her faith. Cody is a 19 year old who has been on drugs since he was 8 (and raped at that time too). He has been brought in by authorities after being discovered at a grim motel scene, where a 14-year-old companion had overdosed and Cody attempted suicide. Can you feel the heaviness yet?
Cody, however, doesn’t want to get clean, and the stubbornness of the 19-year-old drug addict and the ex-alcoholic nun mixes together like gasoline and matches.
While High’s narrative might be all about Cody and the attempt to save him, the story is really about Sister Jamison and her unraveling. Right off the bat, she is introduced to us as bold, brash, and strong. She wears her former addiction and her raw past like a medal. Yet as she sinks deeper into Cody’s darkness, the strength that initially emanates from Sister Jamison reveals itself to be a façade. Read more
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What do you think, Rushers? Are you eager to see Stephen Kunken’s next performance? Is he on a Broadway streak, or what? Do you think you can crush the competition in Be A Broadway Star? Have you seen Catch Me If You Can? Are you as in love with Kerry Butler (and her performance) as I am? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
For some people, spring means a time of cleaning, rain boots, and preparation for warm weather. For Stephen Kunken, spring means a role in a hot-button, new Broadway play. In April 2007, Kunken had a supporting role in Frost/Nixon, and last April, he starred in Enron, for which his performance earned him a Tony nomination. A year after that rollercoaster run in Enron (the day Kunken received his Tony nomination was the same day the show posted its closing notice), he is starring alongside Kathleen Turner in the new drama High, opening April 19.
As Father Michael Delpapp, Kunken assigns Turner, an ex-alcoholic nun, to council a troubled teenager, played by newcomer Evan Jonigkeit, suffering from intense drug addiction and abuse. The three characters hurdle down a volatile road of secret connections, painful memories, and religious doubt. While Kunken’s character is more reserved than in his Tony-nominated Andy Fastow role from Enron, Father Michael equally pushes the plot with his secrets and questionable actions.
“A play like this is challenging, because when all the other horses are running, I have to do my job, and this guy’s job is to keep it together for as long as possible,” Kunken said. “His part of the story comes out and you see that he’s in free fall in his own way.”
Kunken noted that he had to “catch up” with Turner and Jonigkeit, who had been involved with earlier incarnations of High in Hartford, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. The role of Father Michael had previously been played by [title of show] director Michael Berresse. “I didn’t want to rush my understanding of the play,” Kunken said. “Sometimes, plays are examined like an automobile. ‘Do you the lights work? Check.’ But with this show, we opened the hood and looked at the whole thing. Now we get from points A to B in a much better way.” Read more
Stephen Kunken has been riding an emotional roller coaster. The day after he wrapped his run as the Stage Manager in the Barrow Street Theatre’s Our Town this winter, he and his wife flew to Ethiopia to bring home their adopted eight-month daughter. Three days later, the ebullient family was back in New York and Kunken began rehearsals for Enron. Two months later, Kunken received his first Tony nomination and was informed that the play was closing all within the same day.
Despite the head-spinning timing, Kunken is well versed in the nature of theater. He has appeared in numerous acclaimed Broadway productions like Proof, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Frost/Nixon, in addition to roles in Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, Gossip Girl, and Law & Order. His portrayal of Enron’s Andy Fastow, the wormy brainiac who concocts the illegal plan that draws the company into historical scandal, has earned him a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor.
Kunken sat down with Stage Rush to talk about the unpredictability of theater, Tony night fake outs, and watching raptors cackle off stage.
What was your reaction when you found out you were nominated?
My immediate reaction was I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. It’s the pinnacle of an industry you’ve gotten into. It’s just amazing to even step onto a Broadway stage. When I took my first step on a Broadway stage, I realized it was a threshold that I’d crossed. The first time anybody mentions your name in a review, it’s “Wow.” At that moment when you’re nominated and you’re embraced by the community, it’s hard to put a word to it. I truly believe the nomination is the win.
What nominee are you most excited for?
Stephen McKinley Henderson from Fences. Stephen has been in this for so long and is such a fantastic actor. It’s going to be hard, because if he wins, the presenter is going to announce, “Stephen…” and I’ll be like, (gasp). And my middle name is Michael, so they’ll say, “Stephen M…” I’ll have to wait till they get to the “Henderson” to know. Then I’ll have to put my ass back in the chair.