“MASS APPEAL” GARNERS WIDE APPROVAL

BONNIE GOLDBERG

An experienced and savvy priest once warned his wannabe religious student that coughs from the congregation during a sermon were bad, an indication of boredom and/or rebellion among the church participants. That advice from Father Farley of the St. Francis parish was only one of an epistle-full of advice the older clergyman was happy to share with the highly spirited novice Mark.

To learn from the parables and practical parameters, take a seat in Square One Theatre’s new home, an intimate black box theatre, at Stratford Academy, 719 Birdseye Street, Stratford, only a mile or so from its former location. Sit back and ponder as Father Tim Farley from his comfortable perch as parish pastor sets out to tame the idealistic fervor of seminarian Mark Dolson in Bill C. Davis’ game of religious rules “Mass Appeal” welcoming attendees of all faiths until Sunday, November 22.

Frank Smith’s well beloved Father Tim is in the midst of a Sunday sermon on whether or not women should be considered for the priesthood when he is interrupted mid-sentence by Darius James Copland’s impassioned and impatient and questioning young seminarian Mark.The challenge is declared and the gauntlet is flung, precipitating an exchange of ideas and philosophies as the elder statesman in this wealthy Roman Catholic congregation mentors the still wet-behind-the-ears student studying to be a deacon.

Both men score points and miss returning the serve as the good Father imbibes more than his fair share of sparkling Burgundy wine and Mark questions his complacent stance on too many issues.¬†While Mark wants his sermons to shake up the attendees, he accuses Father Farley of merely entertaining them with “song and dance theology.”

Their intense discussions reveal many truths and misconceptions about the church and the two men, about vows of celibacy, why priests should be in the image of Christ, how to be diplomatic and empathetic and the need to be charming rather than confrontational. The fate of a pair of young seminarians in Mark’s class looms large. Artistic Director Tom Holehan beautifully handles the delicate relationship that moves from teacher to student, parent to child, and, ultimately, friend to trusted friend. Both men offer fine performances as they explore their positions on either side of the pulpit.

For tickets ($20), call Square One Theatre at 203-375-8778 or online at www.squareonetheatre.com. Performances are Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Controversy knocks on Father Farley’s door and forces him to abandon his complacency (but not his Burgundy) as Mark Dolson challenges his authority in particular and the Catholic Church’s in general.

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