Thoughts & Musings

Saving Grace

Two men of God form an unlikely bond on stage at 2nd Story Theatre.

by Dave Christner, Newport Mercury
  • 24th March 201624/03/16
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When a playwright sets about to write a two-character play, she or he better be damn certain of two things: (1) They better know how to write, and (2) the two characters better be engaging — and remain so for the better part of two hours. “Mass Appeal” by Bill C. Davis, now playing at 2nd Story Theatre in Warren, fulfills these criteria with overwhelming success.

Davis is a gifted and stimulating storyteller. As the product of his Catholic rearing and formal education, he’s intimately familiar with the church’s hierarchical organization and its sometimes quirky parish practices. As for his writing, Davis makes the many bouts of clever banter in “Mass Appeal” come about as naturally as a sister saying the rosary. Of course, the actors playing the two roles have a great deal to do with this.

Bob Colonna as Father Tim Farley and David Sackal as seminarian Mark Dolson could not be better in their roles. Father Farley is a man on a mission, a mission to keep the peace and maintain the status quo. For his parishioners, Farley’s mission requires little more than faithfully practicing the normal sacraments of the Catholic Church and contributing a reasonable percentage of their worldly goods to the church coffers. This is a very comfortable arrangement for priest and parishioners and alike.

Farley drives a BMW and is supplied with an ample enough stock of Glenlivet single-malt scotch to satisfy his habit, not the kind worn by the nuns who serve the church in much more inconspicuous ways than does the more practical than pious Farley.

At the other end of the ecclesiastical spectrum, is the socially conscious and activist Dolson who is set on changing the world through his service to the church — once he becomes a priest. But his radical idea of allowing women to be priests does not sit well with the bishop who has the power to make or break the aspiring priest. And Dolson garners little support elsewhere when he challenges the faithful in Farley’s parish to get off their duffs and do something to make the world a better place for somebody other than themselves.

Sackal’s passionate portrayal of the fiery Dolson is like a shaft of light slanting through a sacred stained glass window. He illuminates the stage, playing off the seasoned Colonna with youthful audacity. Under Ed Shea’s direction, Colonna and Sackal make Davis’ dialogue hum like the strings of a well-tuned harp.

As Farley tries to save Dolson from himself and Dolson attempts to protect Farley from the evil spirits embedded in good scotch, the two men of God form an unlikely bond that is heart and soul of the play. Whether they get what they want or what they need is up for you to decide. But rest assured the journey through the uncharted path of his soul that each man takes in search of grace is a fascinating trip.

“Mass Appeal” is a masterfully written and brilliantly performed play that is as challenging as it is engaging. Rather than asking you to think “lovely thoughts” like Peter Pan, playwright Davis demands that we consider some more serious ideas and even contemplate rocking the boat. In the playwright’s view, if we do, we’ll all be better off for it.

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