Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Bill C. Davis's Avow is currently playing at the New Conservatory Theatre Center and it is an intelligent and thoughtful play. As a "lapsed Catholic," I enjoyed the banter among the two gay men and the liberal priest. I guess I could be called, as one character says "a salad bar Catholic." I pick and choose what is good and bad in the faith and feel, as another character says, maybe there should be a Vatican 3 to right some of the teachings of the church.
The play Avow is about taking vows, which according to the Random House Webster's College Dictionary, is: "to declare frankly and openly; acknowledge, admit." It can also mean to act in accordance with the rules of a religious order. Mr. Davis takes on romantics and Roman Catholics in this production and once again he made me think, as he did with his play Mass Appeal.
Avow opened off Broadway at the Century Center Theater on July 27, 2000 with a cast that included Christopher Sieber, Scott Ferrara, Alan Campbell, Sarah Knowlton and our favorite MGM star Jane Powell. It opened to fairly good reviews and some thought it was better then Mass Appeal.
Brian and Tom are two gay practicing Catholics visiting their parish priest, Father Raymond, who appears to be a very liberal and forward thinking man of the cloth. The two want to bless their lifetime companionship by taking vows in the church. This is part of a greater plan since Brian's sister, Irene, is unmarried and pregnant. To avoid an abortion, Brian and Tom want to adopt and raise the child as their own.
Brian and Tom are very fond of Father Raymond and they are stunned when the priest refuses to grant the request. He tells the couple that the Church can not sanction the marriage nor even their acts of sexual lovemaking. The Church says that such homosexual acts are not genital and it is forbidden by Church law. He even recommends celibacy. Brian is abashed but Tom is contemplative to this remark. It appears that Tom has always had problems with his homosexuality and he begins to question if he will ever have sex with his mate again.
Irene, who is a also lapsed Catholic, tries to persuade Father Raymond to ease up on his stand on the gay couple. In the process romantic chemistry develops between Irene and lonely Father Raymond. In a pivotal role is Brian's mother Rose, who has dealt with her son's homosexuality by lighting candles and going to confession a lot.
NCTC has put on a nice production, however, I feel the timing in the first act is a little slow. There are silent gaps in the conversation between the characters. Some of the scene changes are also ragged. There should be more zip in some of the clever lines in the first act. The set tries a little too hard to be all things to the audience. The small stage is cluttered with too much furniture. It takes at least 15 minutes to get off the ground; there is just too much being said in the first few minutes to get a handle on the play.
The actors are good in their portrayals of people trying to come to terms with their religious beliefs. Bruno Kanter is convincing as Father Raymond and shows the conflicts that even a priest can have in trying to follow Mother Church. Scott Cox and Bill Smartt are fine as Brian and Tom. They are warm, vernacular and very human in character. Scott, who is a fine actor, is able to give genuine scope to his performance. Scott has a terrific stage trained voice with a slight Texas accent. Generally he plays one dimensional characters; however, he manages to escape that single dimension in a great scene with Brian and Father Raymond in the second act.
Bill Smartt has the less flashy role but he manages to find a touching subtlety in his role. Donna Trousdale Berry as Irene is very energetic, funny and very real. Sherry Al-Mufti as Rose has the best lines and she delivers them with style. She is the show's most shining presence. She is wonderful in her "confessional scenes" in the second act with Father Oches as her confessor. He has the right sardonic humor for the priest.
The second act is sharply and sensitively staged by director Christopher Jenkins. This act comes together in both timing and scene changing. In this play, there are no simple solutions to the dilemmas that face gay Catholics, celibate priests or those comtemplating abortion.
Avow runs through October 20. Tickets range from $18 to $28 and they can be obtained by calling (415)861-8972.