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Acacia Theatre Company

DIRECTOR EXPECTS ‘DAVID’S HEART’ WILL LEAVE THEATERGOERS INSPIRED by Tom Jozwik, special to the Catholic Herald

Searching for David’s Heart, Acacia Theatre Company’s latest play, will give theatergoers a worthwhile evening at the theater, promises Deacon Rob Goodman, director.

Deacon Goodman, longtime Milwaukee theater professional and deacon at Three Holy Women Parish, said for him, “a worthwhile evening at the theater (means) you are entertained but you’re (also) inspired and you’re really engaged — and you walk out of the theater (thinking), ‘Wow! Something happened!’”

Semiretired at age 67 after leading First Stage, the theater company he founded in Milwaukee, for 25 years, Deacon Goodman had a hankering to return to directing – the area on which he concentrated as a University of North Carolina graduate student in theater and subsequently practiced at venues including the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

With interdenominational Christian company Acacia, he raised the possibility of directing Searching, a comedy-drama written by his friend Cherie Bennett. Acacia’s acceptance is about to culminate in an eight-show run at the company’s suburban performance space.

Bennett, 53, who has also written for TV’s “The Young and the Restless” and authored seven “Dawson’s Creek” novels, resides in Michigan.

Playgoers familiar with Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding may be reminded of that novel as they watch “Searching,” Deacon Goodman said.

Both works concern girls who, at age 12, are “between one stage of life and the next.”

Darcy in Searching is the daughter of parents with demanding jobs, hard-pressed to devote as much time to their two children as they would like. As a result, Darcy is quite close to her older brother; in fact, she idolizes David. But she wishes him dead during an uncharacteristic argument and David dies in an accident before Darcy has a chance to rescind the curse.

His organs are donated for transplant purposes and, with her best friend’s help, Darcy tracks down the recipient of David’s heart in an attempt to assuage her guilt.

“I have always felt an affinity for Catholicism, though I am of a different faith,” Bennett told the Catholic Herald via email. “I’m Jewish and Judaism calls us to not just say ‘sorry’ but to make amends to someone we feel we have wronged. I saw Darcy’s ‘journey’ as being both actual and metaphorical … as she gets closer to David’s heart and ‘finds’ it, she grows and takes on some of the best of her brother’s character. Love. Forgiveness. Faith.”

After her brother David is killed in a car accident, Darcy, played by Chaire Zempel, left, begins a journey to find the recipient of her brother’s heart in the hopes of finding a piece of her brother still alive as well as her own peace of mind in Searching for David’s Heart. Also pictured are Kwasi Stampley and Paul Budnowski, with David Sapiro standing.

To Deacon Goodman, Bennett’s play “brings up the themes of grief and loss, friendship, family, race.” If that all sounds a bit heavy, the director insisted the play is “very humorous,” featuring some “very funny lines.”

Is “Searching” merely a play for kids? Not in the director’s estimation.

“It’s also a great play (for adults), with or without kids,” he insisted. Deacon Goodman, himself a family man, called the play “a family drama,” involving as it does not only the protagonist but also her parents and sibling, plus another family. Among other things, “Searching” takes a close look at the life Darcy’s policeman father leads.

The play “deals with parenting,” Deacon Goodman said. “It’s definitely a play about redemption, reconciliation, but for me it’s also a play about hope. (Darcy) discovers, and this is really important in grief counseling, that your relationship with a person doesn’t die when the person dies.” Rather, “your memory,” sometimes powerful enough for you to virtually hear the voice of a departed loved one, “lasts forever.” The play, said Deacon Goodman, “fits perfectly into the paschal mystery.”

A Vietnam veteran and convert to Catholicism, the deacon/director refutes any notion that ordained ministry and theater might be mutually exclusive.

“The theater has helped me immensely with my preaching,” he insisted. “Theater is about telling stories and Jesus did all of his teaching through telling stories.”

A theatrical performance space, Deacon Goodman suggested, not unlike a church, “is a sacred space if you’re using it in a sacred way – spreading Gospel values, forgiveness, reconciliation, acceptance of others, setting others free.”

“Faith opens your eyes and ears to see differently,” the deacon said.

Because of his faith, he added, he reads plays differently than other directors may – as “a disciple of Jesus” and seeker of hope. Regardless of our career paths, he noted, we are all called to discipleship. “Christian,” Deacon Goodman said, “means following Christ, doing what he did.”