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
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
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
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
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
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
her first in 17 years, that she had been having an affair with a
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
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
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
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
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
Driven by the likable and energized performances of Ferrara and
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
than anything in the play is why cloth diapers are being laundered
at home in this faithless age of disposable Pampers?
— Simon Saltzman
at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200 , $47.50. To September 2.
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