MASS APPEALs at 2nd Story
2nd Story Theatre in Warren is on a pretty good run in 2016!by Larry O'Brien, Broadwayworld.com
2nd Story Theatre in Warren is on a pretty good run in 2016: HYSTERIA, LOVE LOSS AND WHAT I WORE, and now MASS APPEAL by Bill C. Davis, playing Upstage until April 3, have each provided entertaining and interesting evening or afternoons for their audiences. This play premiered in 1981 – about halfway between Going My Way and Spotlight. That seems right: the show does not portray priests as saints, and only hints at the existence of problems, that will be revealed later on. In ninety minutes, MASS APPEAL tells the story of Father Tim Farley (Bob Colonna), a Catholic parish priest whose comfortable existence is upset by the arrival of an idealistic young seminarian, Mark Dolson (David Sackal), who becomes Fr. Farley’s charge and challenge. Father Tim Farley is highly popular with his parishioners due to his charm, wit, easy-going manner, and entertaining (but unchallenging) sermons. One Sunday Dolson interrupts Farley’s “dialogue” sermon to challenge his stance on the ordination of women. In fairness to the young man, Fr. Farley had invited questions but got more than he asked for from Dolson. The pastor is outraged yet intrigued by Dolson, and asks to have him assigned to work with him. And that, as Rick tells Captain Renaud in Casablanca, is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
MASS APPEAL is a two-person play, and the actors have over sixty years of professional stage experience between them: Bob Colonna and David Sackal has zero. Colonna is terrific, getting the most out of the plays numerous funny lines (“the collection was down 30% after your sermon – it’s like the Nielsens.”), and letting his character change and grow through his encounter with the idealistic, somewhat intemperate Dolson. Early in the play, Colonna seemed lost for a line, but it was tough to tell whether it was he or Fr. Farley who had the issue. He made it work. Sackal was good too: he made us feel his impatience with Church he at once loved and sought to make over. Their appreciation for one another grew during the performance.
MASS APPEAL is performed in the round and the set could hardly have been simpler: a couple of comfortable chairs facing each other center stage set on another beautiful oriental rug from Rustigian Rugs, off to one side is Farley’s desk with a phone and an endless supply of Glenlivet, on the other is a small lectern serving as the pulpit. They could have done more with the costumes – priests do not deliver sermons in their plain black suits; they get to wear colorful liturgical stuff. That would have seemed to be easily enough done, but I quibble: this is a good play.