Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Surge of the Heart

"100 Saints You Should Know" at Playwrights Horizons, September 1, 2007

In its world premiere at Playwrights Horizons, Kate Fodor's new play continues to build on her award-winning resume. "100 Saints..." centers on two people from dramatically different backgrounds passing each other on their respective paths questioning faith.

Theresa (Janel Moloney), a single mother of a teenage manipulator and self-styled bad girl, cleans the rectory and offices for Father Matthew McNally (Jeremy Shamos), who has gotten himself suspended over some photographs by George Platt Lines he tore from a library book. Theresa was raised by two logicians, both professors at the University of Michigan and took off as a pregnant teen after her parents' rejection. Father McNally has returned to visit his mother Colleen (Lois Smith), having no place else to go during his suspension. Things deteriorate when Theresa arrives to deliver a book she found in the rectory after McNally's departure. She's left her daughter Abby (Zoe Kazan) in the car, who strikes up a conversation with the ever-so-conflicted Garrett (Will Rogers), the teenage son and delivery boy of McNally's mother's grocer.

Ms. Fodor spends a little longer than what felt necessary setting up the dysfunctional relationships between mothers and children. Ms. Moloney's first scene with Ms. Kazan quickly and clearly established the contentious situation between the two. The scene played well as a situation that happens regularly between the two characters, mother exhausted and resigned, daughter contemptuous and controlling, but went on about three pages past making the point.

Ms. Kazan, last seen as a precocious school girl in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" remains precocious and even more promiscuous this go-round.

Ms. Moloney's Theresa is worn from the difficult life she's lived after having her child when she was little more than a child herself at the time. Tall and attractive, but without polish or much education, she's doing the best that she can to reconcile the practical world she was raised in, but longing for something with more meaning than her day to day drudgery.

Similarly, the first scene between Mr. Shamos and Ms. Smith became tiresome. Credit is due to Ms. Smith for making this seem much less obvious. Her Colleen is a woman of the post WWII generation, committed and loyal. She immediately assumes that her son only wants to return to his parish, and doesn't understand how he can walk away from his commitment to the church. Her natural reaction is to want to help him "fix" his situation. She wields a Catholic, loving guilt like a weapon from the moment he arrives.

Mr. Shamos' Matthew captures the conflict of a man whose spiritual life is fading as the beauty and reality of the world around him wakens thoughts and desires he doesn't know how to handle. Prayer offers no answers or solace and he is haunted by the writings of a poet who said "Beauty is God's goodness made physical."

Mr. Rogers' Garrett, gets little more than use as a plot device to provide exposition from Matthew's past, and Abby's recognition at the harm she wields with her mean-spirited comments and scheming.

Director Ethan McSweeney has assembled quite the capable cast for this premiere and keeps things moving nicely, particularly in the second act as the characters' crises of faith begin to collide. What could have fallen into stereotype here remains fresh under his hand. There is a terrific moment between Theresa and Matthew in the second act when he confesses how alone he's felt, never being touched by anyone. Theresa's maternal instincts kick in and she offers to rub his head like she used to do for Abby when she was younger. The tension and its release feels like a confession in itself - a beautiful moment.

Rachel Hauck's sets rotate around a silvered tree at center stage which provides the symbols of strength and wisdom, but also provides the means for what will be the tragic moment in the second act. Jane Cox' lighting complements very well.

1 comment:

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Monschein, I rather liked the show, perhaps much more than you, but believe you've written an excellent review. I purposely held off on reading it until I had written mine...