Corrections or additions?

This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for August 23, 2000

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Off-Broadway Review: `Avow’

Four years after its wobbly world premiere at the

George

Street Playhouse, "Avow" appears a much better and funnier

play than it once was. Apparent tightening of the convoluted story,

strong performances all around, and the brisk fluid direction by Jack

Hofsiss (director of "Elephant Man"), will undoubtedly give

Bill C. Davis’s play a new lease on life and a deservedly good run

Off-Broadway and beyond.

Brian (Christopher Sieber) and Tom (Scott Ferrara) love dogs. Brian

trains them at a seeing-eye institute and Tom, a veterinarian, treats

them at his clinic. Brian and Tom also love each other. They would

like to be formally married. As active, devout Catholics, they will

only consider a ceremony in which a priest hears their vows.

Their effort to convince Father Raymond (Alan Campbell), a "good

radical non-mainstream" priest, to perform the ceremony has

unexpected

results. The couple is supported more than in spirit alone by Brian’s

pregnant single sister Irene (Sarah Knowlton), a concert pianist who

wants them to adopt her baby. The plot thickens as the cynical

non-religious

and irreverent Irene assumes the role of ambassador for her brother.

Upon meeting Father Raymond, Irene’s agenda somewhat unexpectedly

begins to include Father Raymond. When Irene attempts to explain why

Brian and Tom think they need the sacrament of matrimony, Father

Raymond

responds with, "They only think they need to be lovers." Even

as she vents her anger and frustration, Irene begins to feel herself

attracted to the undeniably attractive and young Father Raymond whose

veiled curiosity and interest in her does not go completely unnoticed.

A futile meeting with Father Raymond fills Tom with guilt, and he

moves out. He hopes that attending sessions at Courage, a group that

supports chaste life, will solve his dilemma. In response, Brian

becomes

so despondent that he can’t sleep, eat, or masturbate. If Irene’s

view that the church is a dream world, it doesn’t take more than a

few minutes for her to begin casting dreamy looks at Father Raymond.

Rather too easily smitten by Irene’s earnest appeal and by her

confession,

her first in 17 years, that she had been having an affair with a

married

man, Father Raymond suggests that she work 30 days for the homeless

as act of repentance. Somewhere along the way, Irene’s passion for

the priest is fueled when he intimates that he wasn’t always a virgin.

"You’ve tasted of the fruit and gave it up?" she asks with

the candor that guarantees a laugh.

The play itself, by the author of "Mass Appeal" and other

Catholic-tormented plays, has as many funny lines as a facile sit-com,

but it also lets loose with a barrage of stinging (and hardly

unfamiliar)

criticisms of the Catholic church. Ironically, the best defender of

the church is Brian and Irene’s very Catholic mother, Molly, here

delightfully played by former MGM musical star Jane Powell. No

stranger

to the New York stage ("Irene," "After-Play"), the

petite and eternally plucky Powell gets some of the biggest laughs

of the evening as a woman who cannot hide her loosely harnessed

passion

for Father Nash (Reathel Bean), her own parish priest who also happens

to be Father Raymond’s confessor. Rose’s best line: "I can’t think

of anything nicer than my daughter marrying a priest."

Even if you get the feeling that the situations and the lines are

more superficially manufactured for their effect than arising out

of the reality of the moment or from a character’s honesty, the play

keeps you on guard for surprises and keeps you wondering what will

happen next. Will Father Raymond leave the church for Julie? Will

Julie’s romantic dreams about the priest be realized? Will Tom’s

determination

to be obedient to the church keep the lovers forever celibate? The

play’s wisest character is the priests’ resident housekeeper Julie

(Kathleen Doyle), who appears only briefly to answer to the query

as to whether priests should get married. "Marriage makes people

petty and nervous." Julie’s answer is hardly profound, but like

the play, is amusingly glib, cheerfully submitted and succinctly

sincere.

Driven by the likable and energized performances of Ferrara and

Sieber,

the lovers seem sanctioned, if by no one or nothing else, by their

relentless good natures. While Knowlton careens through the play more

like a brash truck driver than as a sensitive concert pianist, her

passion is openly defined. This is not the case with Campbell, who

has the task to be vulnerable to love as well as "lost at sea

in a gray area." This last quote also serves to describe David

Jenkins’s unit set.

One question that goes unanswered and is more perplexing and

confounding

than anything in the play is why cloth diapers are being laundered

at home in this faithless age of disposable Pampers?

HH

— Simon Saltzman

Avow, Century Center, 111 East 15 Street, New York.

Tele-Charge

at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200 , $47.50. To September 2.


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