Water and vinegar, pineapple and pizza, religion and sexuality. These are just a few things that don’t mix well together. Yet somehow Ruth Virkus’ Immaculate Heart seems to be an exception as the play’s exploration of the difficult discovery of asexuality takes place inside a church. Following a trio of characters, we watch Clare, an adorkable middle-aged Catholic, develop a friendship with Marina, a boisterous opinionated lesbian, as the former works at her parish under the guidance of Father Paul (Scot Froelich). Clare (Rachel Flynn) and Marina (Noe Tallen) develop a romantic relationship that uncovers unspoken truths about Clare that she must wrestle with. The three intersect throughout the two-act play highlighting the remarkable self-discovery of Clair’s asexuality. The drama runs efficiently and, thanks to the tight plot, rarely dawdles.
Asexuality was probably never mentioned in your high school health class. And because of its lack of tantalizing fanfare, it probably hasn’t been seen much in popular culture. A brief definition of asexuality is simply someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Keep in mind, like most things regarding the human condition, asexuality exists on a spectrum. Defining it is more personal than anything else, which is kind of the point of Immaculate Heart.
Watching Clare, this soft-spoken isolated woman come to terms and define her sexuality is a riveting process. Rachel Flynn introduces us to Clare via her interactions with Marina and Father Paul, and through the show Flynn slowly and subtly shows us more and more of this woman. The almost imperceptible changes over time help everyone watching Clare understand both her and asexuality. Her sexuality isn’t about a lack of romantic opportunity (in fact Marina makes a pass at Clare)--this is about a very real exclusivity in Clare’s desires. We also see she’s internalized her confusion with sexuality into isolating behavior and religious dedication. As her identity becomes clearer she rejects this behavior and transforms into someone almost unrecognizable from the woman she was at the beginning of the show.
The religious aspect of the play has Father Paul awkwardly run his parish the way we expect any priest too. He provides council, runs confessions, and rejects anything that isn’t heteronormative. With the last part, you might assume the antagonist of the play is Father Paul, but it’s not. Father Paul doesn't provide enough force to be an antagonist. Instead, like pious gun powder, he moves through the show waiting for his presence to incite a reaction. This is interesting to see, as his sub-plot with Marina helps create a divide Clare must cross, but it doesn’t ultimately mean anything ideological. He’s a priest, he opposes anything that fights the mold set by the church. Having him fight with others, who rightfully demonstrate how wrong he is, doesn’t really make an argument against homophobia and religious-based ignorance. What it does instead is demonstrate the protagonist’s agency by having her fight for what she believes.
The drama of this show is so perfectly blended that the audience is completely mesmerized with Clare’s personal struggle, or else they would be if it weren’t for the sound cues. There are many blackouts in Immaculate Heart, which is neither a good or bad thing, and with every blackout comes a sound cue which is so jarring it feels like your being thrown down a flight of stairs. On several occasions, emotional revelations and growth are undercut with musical riffs that feel like they came from a 90’s sitcom. It’s discombobulating.
Despite that, Immaculate Heart is a beautiful, well-written show. Any mindful or curious theater patron would be happy to watch this story. It educates on a hardly spoken subject with a contemporary story brimming with sincerity.