Lawrence Toppman

‘Patron Saint’ deals with the painful stigma of guilt

A call center operator (Nicia Carla) is haunted by a decision in “The Patron Saint of Losing Sleep” at Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte.
A call center operator (Nicia Carla) is haunted by a decision in “The Patron Saint of Losing Sleep” at Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte. George Hendricks Photography

If Diana Grisanti wins another nuVoices competition, Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte will have to retire her number. “River City,” a drama about racial tension in her hometown of Louisville, had its world premiere at ATC in August 2014.

Now the Kentucky playwright returns with the world premiere of “The Patron Saint of Losing Sleep,” the story of a woman who spends seven sleepless nights after making a disastrous decision and watches her life spin out of control.

“Sleep” has less of a conventional structure than “River City,” less of a happy ending (less of an ending at all, really), less optimism and less sense of psychological closure. Yet it might be a stronger play.

Ada (Nicia Carla, fine in an increasingly demanding role) answers complaints at Luxco, a property management firm that manages to neglect all its properties. One day, a distraught, broke Florida woman begs to be let off from her lease without penalties, because her violent husband is about to get out of jail and come after her.

Ada, touched, intervenes. Things go badly, as they did when Ada intervened in divinity school on behalf of a student sexually harassed by a teacher.

In her sleepless hallucinations, Ada imagines a self-help guru (Morayo Orija) giving her counsel. She wrestles emotionally with her guilt, intellectually with a snarky boss (Kayla Piscatelli) and physically with a cheerful co-worker (Gerard Hazelton) who interprets her blunt need for sex – or, at least contact – for affection. Director Elissa Goetschius underlines Ada’s unsettled mental state with quick, fluid staging.

The casting of actors in multiple roles brings out an interesting idea: The world is peopled by archetypes one runs into again and again. The officious boss turns up as an officious college administrator; the tranquil, platitudinous guru becomes a tranquil, platitudinous college adviser; the cheerfully eager co-worker shows up as a cheerfully eager apartment manager.

Most crucially, Kayla Carter plays the two victims Ada tries to aid – one psychologically abused, one physically – and Christian Casper plays both predators, the college prof who hits on students and the husband who just hits. It’s as if the world goes round in a crazy cycle; trying to interfere is like to trying to jump onto a whirling merry-go-round, and you’re likely to get knocked to the dirt.

The script offers a bit of hope, or at least release for Ada. She can’t not intercede when she sees suffering, or thinks she does, but perhaps she needn’t carry the weight of the whole misguided world on her weary shoulders. Even would-be saints, Grisanti seems to say, need a rest from time to time.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘The Patron Saint of Losing Sleep’

WHEN: Through Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte, 650 E. Stonewall St.

RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes, no intermission.

TICKETS: $29-$33.

DETAILS: 704-342-2251; www.atcharlotte.org.

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