Peggy Sue Dunigan

Mass Appeal

By - Apr 2nd, 2008 02:52 pm
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Between heaven and hell, if either exists, is a present life that human beings struggle through, desperate to survive the circumstances that confront them. Saving a person from hell by faith, the conventions of the authentic church and the representations of those beliefs, including the priesthood, become controversial dialogue in the current production Mass Appeal by In Tandem Theatre.

Amid the stained glass windows, both real and on stage in the Tenth Street Theatre, Bill C. Davis’s 1980 award-winning play corners two Catholic priests, Father Farley and Deacon Dolson, from different generations as one tries to save the other from themselves and the authority of the Catholic Church. Youth rebels against the status quo, while age asks only for acceptance, to be loved at all costs, even if one’s profession and principles are sacrificed.

Michael Duncan plays Father Tim Farley, an older priest settled contentedly in a wealthy diocese that fosters a non-confrontational approach towards religion, specifically Catholicism. Enter Michael Perez as Mark Dolson, the young seminarian just ordained as a deacon, the last step before becoming a full-fledged priest. After three years of indulgent living amidst startling sexual mores, Dolson ultimately seeks celibacy and reform through the priesthood – but only on his own unconventional terms, which are contrary to the reigning authority.

Father Farley enjoys this enthusiasm while attempting to restrain it, although the headstrong Dolson resists. Their conversations spill into contemporary issues facing the Catholic priesthood and the church – homosexuality, women in the church, materialism, complacency and faith. As these priests try to change one another, Farley and Dolson reveal their own personal secrets, underscoring the notion that each individual creates his own heaven or hell on earth determined by the place faith holds in their life. As Father Farley reasons, “If there is such a thing as hell – there are hints of it here on this earth.” Both Duncan and Perez inhabit these holy vestments with vitality, but there is an emotional vulnerability between the two men as actors, and characters, which could be realized more completely.

The Tenth Street theatre is a fine venue to contemplate these weighty issues; the high ceilings and arched doors are appropriate to this particular production, and the stage is dressed with rich oriental rugs and an ornate desk befitting a priest of Farley’s stature. Indeed, the audience feels as attentive and captivated as though the sermons were real.

The surprises inherent in Mass Appeal resonate in today’s culture, even if “faith” in organized religion is dissipating; the church relates to other organized institutions in society, including the business environment. We confront Father Farley and Deacon Dolson not just as priests, but simply as people coping with life’s difficult choices. What can someone, anyone, Catholic or atheist, believe and trust in? And if the people we respect in society betray us, even priests, then questions concerning the existence of not only God, but also love and faith among each other, make it difficult to remove the grace of heaven from this earthly life. VS

Mass Appeal at In Tandem’s Tenth Street Theatre runs through April 13. For information or tickets: 414.271.1371 or online.

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