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A CurtainUp Review
100 Saints You Should Know

So you do believe in God?.—Abby
I definitely don't not.—Garrett
This exchange between two teenagers pretty much sums up the troubled relationship with God that all but one of the characters in this play have. Even the young priest to whom everyone looks for the answers and affirmation is needy and full of doubts.
Janel Moloney & Jeremy Shamos in 100 Saints You Should Know
Janel Moloney & Jeremy Shamos in 100 Saints You Should Know. (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Playwrights Horizons has always identified itself as a writers' theater. This season it narrows that focus to emerging women writers. First up in the spotlight is Kate Fodor, a journalist turned playwright just a few years ago with Hannah and Martin (see link below). That drama, based on two figures from the World War II era, the political theorist Hannah Arendt and philosopher Martin Heidegger, left me eager to see more of her work. So does this follow up.

Like Fodor's debut play, 100 Saints You Should Know tackles a big subject: Faith — the difficult questions that make it a constant struggle even for true believers and which frequently leave those who doubt or reject it in turmoil. Unlike John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize winning Doubt , (see link below), however, this doesn't involve another pedophile priest situation. The pivotal character here is a young priest furloughed from his church post by superiors skittish about any hint of noncnforming priestly behavior. His dilemma puts the widely documented crisis in the priesthood into a broader context of an alienated society which chips away at people's ability to rely on the comforting rituals of faith.

Fodor is blessed with a handsome production. Her play's many short scenes are sensitively and fluidly staged by Ethan McSweeney. Rachel Hauck's elegant rotating set (gorgeously lit by Jane Cox) effectively avoids the too many stark blackouts typical of this structure. The five excellent actors succeed in making the most of their characters' vulnerabilities and downplaying their essentially standard issue qualities.

Lois Smith in 100 Saints You Should Know
Lois Smith in 100 Saints You Should Know. (Photo: Joan Marcus)
The always wonderful Lois Smith brings new depth to the stereotypical Irish-American mom, proud of having raised a priest and with a brogue thicker than any meat and potatoes stuffed Irish stew. You're not likely to play a game scrabble any time soon without being reminded of the way the playwright and Smith have used the game to establish the communication gap between this mother and her son.

Jeremy Shamos plays Matthew, the young priest facing an intense spiritual crisis, with remarkable understatement. It makes you almost wonder if he's trying to do penance for being such a goofball in Gutenberg, the Musical. Janel Moloney (West Wing's Donna Moss) also finds emotional colors in understatement as Theresa, the former wild girl whose current earthbound life as a free lance maid has stirred a very dormant interest in God. On the other hand, Zoe Kazan as Theresa's daughter Abby is so deliciously funny that you forgive the excesses of her super-cynical, working class Valley Girl character.

The plot in a nutgraph: It begins with a visual metaphor. We see Theresa on her knees, not on a kneeling pillow in Matthew's church, but bent over the toilet in the bathroom of the rectory she cleans twice a week. The scene suggests an aura of reverence but also a subliminial hint as to the direction in which Theresa's life has moved, as well as the humor that permeates this essentially serious story. Her brief conversation with Matthew paves the way for the various strands of the plot to be unwound. That includes the back story about why Matthew has been put on leave from his post which reconnects him with his rigidly, pious mother —a relationship fraught with more tension than genuine warmth. The parental knots are echoed in Theresa's relationship with her rebellious young daughter. Add into this mix young Garrett (Will Rogers), the delivery boy with sexual identity issues, his meeting with Abby and a traumatic accident, and you have the shifting scenes on the cool, tranquil looking set bristle with problems. And questions! Questions posed to the priest by Theresa, Abby, Garrett—not to mention the priest to himself.

Fodor finds some wonderful ways to illustrate the need of all these characters for that indefinable "surge of the heart." Some of the scenes between Matthew and Theresa are particularly touching. His telling her about the problem that led to his temporary dismissal by the church higher ups is far more effective and of a piece with the rest of the play than his long audience addressing monologue towards the end of the first act. That monologue is the only awkward segment in a script that otherwise gives the actors ample opportunity to be both funny and moving.

Though I found myself wishing that Ms. Fodor had settled for a less abrupt hope and prayer (literally) finale, 100 Saints does answer the prayers of those theater lovers who yearn for more new plays by playwrights not afraid to take on difficult to make entertaining subjects.

Hannah and Martin

By Kate Fodor
Directed by Ethan McSweeny
Cast: Lois Smith (Colleen), Jeremy Shamos (Matthew)), Zoe Kazan (Abby), Janel Moloney (Theresa), Will Rogers (Garrett)
Scenic design: Rachel Hauck
Costume design: Mimi O'Donnell
Lighting design: Jane Cox
Sound design: Matt Hubbs
Playwrights Horizons' Mainstage, 416 West 42nd Street, 212/ 279-4200.
From 8/24/07 to 9/30/07; opening 9/18/07
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, including one intermission.
Tuesdays through Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 2:30 & 8PM and Sundays at 2:30 & 7:30 PM.
Tickets are $65.HOTtix, $20 rush tickets, subject to availability, day of performance only, starting one hour before showtime to patrons aged 30 and under.STUDENT RUSH, $15 rush tickets, subject to availability, day of performance only, starting one hour before curtain to full-time graduate and undergraduate students. One ticket per person, per purchase.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 9/15 press performance
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