The Catholic Church has been embattled in scandal about priest sex abuse since the original reporters of Spotlight (same as the recent film) broke the story in Boston. However, the current production of Mass Appeal, playing at 2nd Story Theater in Warren, shows that a variety of closed-minded biases have existed in the church for a very long time. Luckily, this show is heavy on the comedy and light on the drama, although there are a number of messages in the text if you listen. Raised in the regime of the Catholic Church myself, it’s nice to laugh at some of the old notions young seminarian Mark Dolson blows up in sedate, old Father Farley’s face.
Mass Appeal was written by Bill C. Davis in 1980. Artistic director, Ed Shea, has taken some “literary license” to update the dialogue for contemporary audiences, making reference to Hillary Clinton, for example. I saw the show in previews, yet all the important elements were in good shape. In fact, the real gem here is the top-notch performance of Bob Colonna, whose well-drawn portrayal of Father Tim Farley is spot on, and whose comic timing is impeccable. Colonna’s turn in Mass Appeal should not be missed. David Sackal does a fine job as Mark Dolson, the “apprentice” – known as a seminarian or deacon in the church. And no, you don’t have to be Catholic to get the jokes.
The young firebrand Mark Dolson (Sackal) shows up to see Father Farley (Colonna) in running clothes with exposed legs and no socks. That’s horror enough for Farley, but Dolson also appeared at Mass the previous Sunday and challenged Fr. Farley publicly about women becoming priests. Farley is outraged since he does not tolerate perceived disrespect and has become set in his ways. He is the “king” of his congregation. A glass of scotch always in hand (outside of church), Farley has perhaps given up on the idealistic goals of his youth. Both of the characters travel through a nice arc of emotions during the play. Eventually, after much kicking and screaming, they become invested in each other’s path.
Shea announced this comedy-drama show is a change in the schedule for 2nd Story. He intimated that he thought we have all had enough angst from the zeitgeist. Therefore, 2nd Story has lightened up the fare a bit with shows not steeped in bile. I can recommend Mass Appeal as a refreshing change of pace. The audience laughed nearly every minute. There are some sad moments, of course, when the higher ups in the chain of command exert pressure on both Fr. Farley and Dolson to conform to expectations. The sparring of the pair, the old and the new, is entertaining and invigorating. It might even raise some questions in your own mind.
Specific lighting of different “locations” on the set (pulpit in church, Farley’s office, etc.) is effective, but the sound design puzzles me. I thought the organ music could have started sooner before the play began to help set the mood. In addition, the random secular music during one of Colonna’s monologues and at intermission is off-putting. Perhaps “Get Me To The Church On Time” or “Going to the Chapel,” or something similar would have made more sense.
Mass Appeal plays at 2nd Story Theater March 11 through April 3. For more information and tickets please visit 2ndstorytheatre.com/show/mass-appeal/.