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This review by Jack Florek was prepared for the September 20, 2000
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `Mass Appeal’
Bill C. Davis wrote his play "Mass Appeal"
in 1980 and claims he based his characters on priests and seminarians
whom he had come across in his 16 years of Catholic schooling during
the 1960s and ’70s. In those turbulent times, a number of
issues divided the church faithful, such as the question of women
in the priesthood, celibacy, and homosexuality among the clergy. These
issues are still with us, but in the intervening years the hot-button
has cooled considerably. And in playwright Davis’ hands, the button
is positively tepid.
Off-Broadstreet Theater in Hopewell first staged "Mass
in 1986, and is opening its new season with a revival production.
Perennially popular with community theaters, the show has only two
cast members, so it’s cheap to produce. The subject matter is mildly
controversial, it has one simple set, and the most technically
piece of equipment needed is an on-off switch.
That’s because this play is not about the issues dividing the church,
but rather it is the tried and true story of an idealistic young
fighting the unwinnable fight against good ol’ boy institutional
It seems issues are raised here merely for effect, offered up, and
then dropped like hot wax.
Mark Dolson (Danny Siegel) is an idealistic young seminarian studying
to become a priest. He clashes with his mentor, Father Tim Farley
(Doug Kline), the church’s long-time parish priest, who believes the
secret to survival is always to be careful not to ruffle the feathers
of people in positions of authority. Dolson, being a young hot-head,
likes nothing better than ruffling feathers.
The first time we see him, in the middle of mass, Dolson vehemently
challenges what he sees as the archaic roles of women in the church,
eloquently explaining the historical fact that women were most loyal
to Jesus as they bravely administered to him at the cross while the
male apostles all hid for fear of persecution. This leaves Father
Farley limply standing at his pulpit, red faced and speechless before
his flock. Later, while giving his own very first sermon from the
pulpit, Dolson looses his cool and blurts out that the church
is nothing but a bunch of "complacent old blue-hairs."
Despite all this, Father Farley has taken a liking to
the boy, and tries to smooth things over for him with the congregation
and church authorities. He patiently tries to explain the advantages
of political correctness to the young seminarian, how to get by, how
to say the right things to the right people. However, nothing works.
When Dolson makes an enthusiastic defense to the Monsignor on behalf
of two fellow seminarians accused of homosexuality, he raises the
Monsignor’s suspicions. Despite Farley’s warnings, Dolson ultimately
admits to the Monsignor that he also has enjoyed sexual relations
with men (and women) in the past, but promises that he will cease
and desist after he takes his vow of celibacy. This is not good enough
for the Monsignor, and Dolson is given the boot.
As the young seminarian, Danny Siegel is exceedingly tense and stiff,
as if he needed to use every muscle he had just to remain standing.
Although this works somewhat in his favor because the character he
plays suffers from a similar anxiety, it quickly becomes clear that
this is the actor’s problem, not the character’s. Siegel simply never
relaxes, and delivers each line as if it were the beginning of a
Opening weekend jitters may have contributed to this condition, and
to his credit, Siegel did know his lines, something that occasionally
gave Doug Kline, as Father Tim, difficulty.
For the most part, Kline plays the older priest in a likable fashion,
never embittered, just tired, world-weary, and compromised. He infuses
his part with moderation and a strong sense of the moment at hand.
One big problem is the over-the-top drunk scene between Father Farley
and Dolson. Kline plays it as if he were the result of mixed-breeding
experiment between Otis, the Mayberry town-drunk, and the slurring,
sloshing ’70s comedian Foster Brooks. In these times of M.A.D.D.,
such excesses are simply not funny. A more sensitive, understated
portrayal would be more fitting.
Granted this was most likely a directorial decision. And for the most
part, Robert Thick is workmanlike and unobtrusive in his direction,
possessing a nice knack for keeping things moving. People tend to
walk casually around desks, fiddling with whiskey bottles as they
chat, or shuffle in the corner pretending their attention has suddenly
been drawn to a spot on the carpet. All this in unobtrusive and
giving the performance the comfy-cozy glow of real life. And because
Thick makes safe and predictable directorial choices, he rarely makes
He does have a problem with the lag time between scenes. It is too
long, and the continual playing of church hymns piped through the
speaker system doesn’t help. The night I saw the show, it was
possible to say 10 Hail Mary’s during a single scene change. I would
recommend employing some sort of backstage crew to help speed things
along. (Or if there already is a crew in place, they’re not doing
The lighting and set design by Thick are suitable, but not flashy.
Ann Raymond’s costume designs are equally functional. Making actors
look like priests is sometimes a difficult task, but she succeeded.
"Mass Appeal" is being billed as a comedy, but despite a few
humorous moments, it is hardly that. It is, in fact, a not
thought-provoking drama about how those with institutional power fight
change and vehemently remove anyone, young or old, who threatens them.
That the play uses the Catholic Church as a backdrop is barely an
issue. In fact, with a few line changes the play could be set in any
church, bank, school, or a hundred other different places.
the play’s issues to an institution central to your life may make
for a pleasant diversion, but don’t expect any hot revelations.
— Jack Florek
Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. Ticket includes dessert and beverage,
$20.50 & $22. Performances continue to October 14.
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