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100 Saints You Should Know [Theatre Review]

Pacific Theatre’s 2011-2012 season concludes with Kate Fodor’s 100 Saints You Should Know directed by Anthony Ingram. Saints is a probing and thought provoking tale of five people in search of faith and answers to poignant spiritual questions. Despite some talented acting that highlights the realism of the characters and the play’s topical relevance, the play promises more than it can deliver. The writing, though at times inspired, fails to satisfy and leaves the audience with a frustratingly uneasy emptiness than any satisfying spiritual comfort. But perhaps that’s the point, as life itself never really provides us with satisfying conclusions.

The play begins with an awkward meeting between Father Matthew McNally (Joel Stephanson) and Theresa (Rebecca deBoer), a single mom who works as housekeeper at the rectory to support herself and her daughter Abby (Katherine Gauthier). Shortly after, McNally returns home on a lengthy visit. Unbeknownst to his mother Colleen (Kerri Norris) or Theresa, McNally has been temporarily relieved of his ecclesiastical duties to contemplate the future of his clerical calling after being caught with homoerotic photographs that he tore out of an art book.

At his mother’s house, McNally meets Garrett (Chris Lam), a nerdy and quirky grocery delivery boy who struggles with finding meaning in life. The troubled teen wrestles depression as he deals with homosexual feelings and guilt over the religious implications of his choices. He meets and befriends Abby when she goes along for the ride with her mother who decides one night to find the priest for spiritual guidance. Abby is a truculent and at times obnoxious teenager who has a tenuous at best but often stormy relationship with her mother.

The plot culminates in an accident when Garrett falls out of a tree and has a concussion after he and Abby get drunk together. At the hospital, the characters’ problems are explored. Abby confronts her spiritual anxieties and questions McNally about evil and redemption. Theresa, likewise, presses the priest with issues of doubt and faith. McNally, in turn, admits his hesitations about his calling and hunger for spiritual meaning.

Although the lack of conclusions is dissatisfying, the play is punctuated by tender moments that reach into the depths of the human heart to remind us that what we all desire “is a surge of the heart, a cry of recognition and love.”

The introduction is an opening salvo that engages the audience by taking on the potentially sensation subject of homosexuality in the priesthood but disappoints if one expects insights into the perverse lives of celibates. McNally is a priest facing a crisis of faith and calling but not because he may have latent homosexual desires.

Fodor tactfully exploits the cliché dilemma to present a problem that is much more basic but eminently more human. McNally longs for that which he cannot have because of his vocation: physical intimacy and contact. At one point, he confesses to Theresa, “I don’t look at them as objects of desire — I become them, just as a beginning step before even thinking about desire.” McNally’s appreciation of the human body is misunderstood and distorted.

At the heart of the scandalous images is a simple desire to love and be loved. Fodor forestalls any simple assessment of debauchery through Theresa who suggests that bodies are reflections of God’s beauty and naturally deserving of admiration. Saints is not a play about priests coming out of the closet and to focus on the homosexual element would be an unfortunately short-sighted understanding of the play. Saints is a touching and gentle reminder that what each of us wants and needs is love that is freely and generously given.

Saints raises important questions but remains irritatingly tacit about providing any of the answers. The only consolation, if any, beneath the tangle of problems that the characters face is Fodor’s acknowledgement of a fundamental irony in the human condition: the necessity of communication – both with others and God – is fraught with multifarious problems inherent in that very basic act of interaction. In the lives of the characters, problems compound because communication is thwarted, interrupted, or altogether lacking.

Fodor’s play itself is a victim of this irony. Saints paradoxically demonstrates the necessity but complexity of communication. In raising so many questions about the spiritual quest for meaning and faith but answering none of them, Fodor ultimately leaves the audience unsatisfied and the impression that the work is unfinished.

 

100 Saints You Should Know runs until May 26th at Pacific Theatre. Purchase tickets here

 

Kona