“Mass Appeal”

Photo courtesy of John Lamb

Play:        “Mass Appeal”

Group:        Dramatic License Productions

Venue:        Dramatic License Theatre, Upper level, Chesterfield Mall

Dates:        June 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12

Tickets:    $18-$25; contact 636-220-7012 or www.DramaticLicenseProductions.org

Story:    Life is good for Father Tim Farley.  He is pastor of a well-to-do suburban parish, where his charm, wit and easygoing sermons please the parishioners who keep his liquor cabinet stocked with a steady supply of wine and spirits.  Each week, Fr. Farley draws upon a litany of favorite themes in the homilies he presents in his weekly Masses. All is well until one day he is challenged from his pulpit by a brash young seminarian who voices disagreement on whether women should be ordained priests.  Both annoyed and curious, Fr. Farley lets the young man ramble on for a while before proceeding with Mass.

    He likes Mark Dolson enough, though, that he takes him under his wing as a deacon in training.  Dolson’s aggressive approach to his religion has marked him as suspect by the seminary’s director, an old friend of Farley’s known for his hard-line stances on doctrine and the behavior of his students.  Father Farley attempts to channel Dolson’s energies in a positive but practical direction to ensure his success as a seminary student and eventual priest, while also beginning to question his own comfortable life.

Highlights:    Bill Davis wrote his two-act drama in the early 1980s, long before the Roman Catholic Church was rocked with the scandal of sexual abuse.  Still, the Church has been a voice of conservatism for two millennia and through the centuries has withstood challenges from within as well as beyond its Vatican City enclave.

Davis’ work offers an interesting examination of both of its characters in its familiar setting, characters who represent ways of life as much as Catholic doctrine.  In the presentation currently being performed by Dramatic License Productions, director Deanna Jent utilizes the talents of Alan Knoll and Dylan Duke to show us forces of nature clashing against reality with predictable results.

Other Info:    Veteran performer Knoll seems as relaxed in Father Farley’s character as the good priest’s demeanor after a couple of glasses of his favorite wine.  Knoll depicts Father Farley as adept as any politician in working his flock, but also subtly shows us the fissures in Fr. Farley’s complacency widening as the seminarian’s beliefs and passion gradually influence him.  It’s a meticulous rendering that flows naturally with Knoll’s convincing ways.

    Duke does fine work as the impetuous and impassioned seminarian, a true believer who can’t see the forest for the trees, hopelessly plowing through any connections with parishioners in his earnest attempt to enlighten them.  His honesty is refreshing, yet also naïve and doomed to the trash heap of unfettered idealism, and Duke’s resolute interpretation underscores that impression.

    Jent’s direction focuses sharply on the interaction between the two characters, powerful forces going in opposite directions.  She keeps the pace of the production brisk but also allows sufficient opportunities for her two performers to reveal their characters’ strengths as well as weaknesses.

    Amanda Clayton’s scenic design efficiently incorporates a pulpit in the background of Father Farley’s simply appointed office.  Corey McElrea’s lighting judiciously captures the light shining through the stained glass of Farley’s church, while Michael Perkins’ sound design cleverly supports the dialogue with spare but pointed spasms of coughing that validate Farley’s admonitions.  Kim Furlow’s costumes suitably attire both men as you might expect.

    “Mass Appeal” isn’t an especially profound story, but it does effectively depict the challenges that await both a young man and a middle-age one at particularly telling junctures in their lives.

Rating:    A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.