Friday, September 14, 2007

100 Saints You Should Know (The SOB Review)

100 Saints You Should Know (The SOB Review) - Mainstage Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, New York, NY

***1/2 (out of ****)


Coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the death of that most saintly of 20th Century Nobel Prize winners, recently released passages from Mother Teresa's remarkable diaries have illuminated what has been characterized as her personal crisis of faith. All of which begs the question of where faith and disbelief intersect.

Those two intangible elements intersect quite literally in Kate Fodor’s arresting and provocative new play, 100 Saints You Should Know, now enjoying its "world premiere" at Off-Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theatre (in actuality, it was first presented last July at Steppenwolf's Garage Theatre in Chicago, but I won't quibble that point here).

In this frequently humorous, yet ultimately circumspect morality play directed with sharp veracity by Ethan McSweeny, another Theresa (Janel Moloney) finds herself on a spiritual quest. Having been a teenage mother -- her acerbic, downright bitter teenage daughter Abby (Zoe Kazan) is now teetering close to the precipice in replicating Theresa's earlier missteps -- she is nearing middle age and searching for more meaning in her life. Perhaps it's no accident that she's found herself cleaning toilets in the rectory of a local Catholic Church.

Matthew (Jeremy Shamos) -- a priest on leave from that parish is experiencing a crisis of faith -- returns home for respite in the care of his reliably faithful, old-fashioned Irish mother Colleen (Lois Smith). Fueling Matthew’s crisis is his inability to reconcile his inner longings with church doctrine (or for that matter his own mother's).

When Garrett (Will Rogers), the dimwitted young son of Colleen's grocer, drops by with his latest delivery, he immediately places Matthew on the defensive by asking probing, sexually suggestive questions. While Garrett's pondering is meant to assuage his own carnal guilt, his questions further isolate a despairing Matthew.

Later that same evening, Theresa calls on Matthew, while leaving her daughter out in the car. Theresa is seeking spiritual guidance, but finds she must scale the walls Matthew has built around himself. Meanwhile, a very bored Abby is left to her own devices outside; she chances upon Garrett, who's hanging around hoping to bare his soul to Matthew, but instead shares his innermost secrets and desires with Abby.

Since I won't act as spoiler, let's just say that what transpires from there spins everyone's lives out of control (aided by Rachel Hauck's simple, yet stirring turntable set design). What still resonates and lingers with me is the purity in which Fodor wrote this compelling piece seemingly without any agenda or ax to grind.

In the program notes, Fodor writes, "I was interested in thinking about what true religious longing might feel like, especially if it took a nonbeliever by surprise, and as a mirror image, what it might feel like for a believer to be pulled away from God by a longing for the things in the secular world." To that end, Fodor has succeeded brilliantly without being heavy-handed or preachy.

It doesn't hurt that she is aided tremendously by the uniformly exceptional cast. Certainly, many will go to see 100 Saints You Should Know for the unique opportunity to see the graceful dignity offered by Lois Smith. But Shamos offers his own solemn, if sobering, portrayal as the priest in crisis. Kazan once again demonstrates that no young stage actress delivers sassy adolescent insolence quite the way she can. Rogers' tender yet goofy take on Garrett shows the awkwardness that comes with burgeoning teen sexuality. And Moloney is radiant as the would-be believer.

Regardless of your religious beliefs or lack thereof, 100 Saints You Should Know is worth seeing and knowing.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.

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2 Comments:

At 14 September, 2007, Blogger Rocco said...

"no young stage actress delivers sassy adolescent insolence quite the way she can"

Good line! If someone ever said that about me, my life would be complete.

 
At 14 September, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Rocco, Someday, I promise to be in your audience and write the same about you.

Rest assured that I already highly regard your clever sassiness and remarkable insolence. It's why you remain one of my must reads!

Cheers!

 

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