The Midwest premiere of Keith Bunin’s “The Busy World is Hushed” at Next Theatre company is the kind of brainy play that will leave half its audience proclaiming it a masterpiece and the other half a work that might be too clever for its own good. After all, when’s the last time you heard a mother dismiss her son with the line, “I refuse to discuss predestination and free will with you again.” In this talky three-hander that dialogue is spoken by Hannah, an Episcopalian minister writing a book on the “lost” Gospels of the bible and struggling to understand her son Thomas’ lack of faith in his life. Thomas, on the other hand, thinks she is a phony woman who uses religion as a crutch in order to deal with the painful memory of her husband’s mysterious drowning. And Brandt is a ghost writer working with Hannah who begins an affair with Thomas and has his own questions of faith and religion to answer for himself, let alone for his new love and parental stand-in. Bunin certainly raises more questions than he ever answers, and the various couplings at hand, examined through the prisms of metaphysics and theology, suggests that this ambitious playwright may have decided to test his Stoppardian skills and write something akin to an “Arcadia”; as seen in the several dramaturgical elements shared by the former with the latter: squabbling intellectuals (“Arcadia”’s lead female is also named Hannah, interestingly enough), abstract and “hot topic” concepts and characters obsessed with uncovering the mysteries from yesterday to answer the questions still burning today. But whereas Stoppard is able to fold his play’s many big ideas into a more thrilling denouement, because of them, you can’t help but feel that most of Bunin’s prolix and self-conscious dialogue, as well as his superfluous theological details (particularly in the first act), are ultimately more distracting than illuminating. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At Next Theatre, 927 Noyes, Evanston, (847)475-1875. This production is now closed.