Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Zander's review of Liberace!
The play opens with Father Farley giving a sermon, which becomes disrupted by as the young deacon, challenging Father Farley's words from the back of the church. One of things that works so well in this production is that, due to the limited space at Square One Theatre Company's new venue, the audience is actually right onstage with the actors and therefore almost becomes a part of the play. This close proximity to the two performers adds to the effectiveness of Mass Appeal. Indeed, when Darius James Copland makes his entrance as Mark Dolson, disputing the sermon, he does so from the last row of the audience. As the story in the play becomes more religiously provocative, in bringing to the forefront exactly what is deemed acceptable (and also what is deemed unacceptable) in the journey to becoming a priest, the audience is almost called upon to act as judge and jury, so to speak.
Frank Smith gradually shows, through his performance, that Father Farley seems to thrive on the acceptance of his pastors, and therefore he is loath to bring up anything truly challenging in his sermons. Smith shines in this role and makes an evolution, of sorts, in his mentoring of the Mark Dolson. One other aspect of Father Farley that becomes increasingly apparent is that he drinks too much. This can almost be taken as his reaction to the rather poor treatment by the church of the young deacon.
Darius James Copland, who was so terrific in last season's Square One Theatre Company production of Good People, is even better here as the conflicted Mark Dolson. He isn't afraid to show the multiple layers within the character and it is actually his fresh-faced and open personality that makes one care a great deal about this young man's dreams about becoming a priest. There comes a moment near the conclusion when both men seem to finally see eye-to-eye about what is deemed right and wrong in the priesthood and this shared revelation changes both characters.
Thanks to the splendid performances of Frank Smith and Darius James Copland and the finely tuned direction by Tom Holehan, this production of Mass Appeal certainly holds one's interest throughout and brings up a number of challenging points about religion. The scenic design by Greg Fairbend and Robert Mastroni is appropriately simple, as is the effective work of Clifford Fava, lighting designer, and Kerry Lampert and Gaetana Grinder, costumes. Everyone involved with Mass Appeal manages to make an asset of the limited space at Square One Theatre Company's new home at the Stratford Academy. By putting the audience within a few feet of the actors at all times, one almost becomes part of the play and, therefore, the rather thorny and complicated issues surrounding religion can truly hit home.
Mass Appeal continues performances at the Stratford Academy in Stratford, CT through November 22, 2015. For tickets, please visit www.squareonetheatre.com or call the box office at 203-375-8778.