“100 Saints You Should Know”
Through April 17. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sunday (April 11). $25-$30. Actor’s Express, King Plow Arts Center, 887 W. Marietta St. 404-607-7469.
By Bert Osborne
In a week that just so happened to also include the opening of Theatrical Outfit’s theological “The Sunset Limited,” and a special engagement of biblical one-man shows by Brad Sherrill at Georgia Shakespeare (“The Gospel of John,” “Prophets”), Actor’s Express’ “100 Saints You Should Know” essentially amounts to the most modest and least inspiring of the lot.
Competently directed by Susan Reid, Kate Fodor’s play intertwines the spiritual crises of two unlikely soul mates. Father Matthew (Doyle Reynolds) is on a forced leave of absence from his parish, grappling with issues of intimacy, loneliness and, indeed, the very foundation of his calling and belief system. That he’s gay is nearly incidental.
Theresa (Carolyn Cook) is a working-class single mom, the rectory’s cleaning lady. She doesn’t pray or go to church, but lately she seems drawn to watching late-night televangelists. She used to have a c’est la vie attitude about everything, but now she’s having questions about God.
It’s marvelous casting for Cook, a rare chance for one of Atlanta’s smartest and most confident actors to play a passive, rather mundane woman who hasn’t got a clue. You’ve never seen her quite like this: She smokes, wears tight jeans, swaps profanities with a rebellious daughter (Rachel DeJulio) and even scrubs an office toilet. The beauty of the performance is how Cook downplays the role, as opposed to playing down to it.
Reynolds downplays the priest, too — but to problematic effect. While there’s an intrinsically aloof aspect to the character, the actor often squanders opportunities to provide deeper nuance. In one ostensibly impassioned aside to the audience, Reynolds doesn’t feel so much conflicted or provoked by Matthew’s situation as simply numbed by it. When he meets a cute delivery boy (Barrett Doyle), the encounter lacks any sense of danger or allure.
Theresa talks about her need to experience a “surge of the heart” and a “cry of recognition and love,” and Cook makes you believe it. Matthew talks about finding a certain “grace in the face of suffering,” but Reynolds takes it easier, more convincingly serene than scarred.
Reid’s supporting cast ranges from fairly bad (Sheila Allen as Matthew’s doting mother) to pretty good (DeJulio) to unexpectedly memorable (Doyle). In a few brief scenes, that boy becomes pivotal to the drama, and he probably sums up Fodor’s shady spirituality as well as anyone else. He doesn’t know whether he believes in God, he admits, but he definitely doesn’t not believe.