nytheatre.com review by James Comtois
April 23, 2009
Cathedral, a play written and directed by Joe Pintauro about a Catholic priest leaving the church after being accused of sexual contact by a young male hustler, invites the audience to ask several questions. What are the consequences of someone—particularly a priest—losing his faith? Do the ends justify the means in the search for truth? Is it okay to circumvent the truth for the greater good? Can revenge ever be virtuous?
In addition to these questions, I was inspired to ask another one for Father Jacob Hansen, the priest in question: What's wrong with you?
Father Jacob, who is some sort of Superpriest saving young women from prostitution and kids from a life of drugs and street crime, is leaving the church mainly due to losing his faith but also, of course, due in part to the previously mentioned accusations. Francis Hammond, the church's cardinal, protests Jacob's departure, since Jacob's done so much good for the church and community, but his pleas to stay are falling on deaf ears.
The pastry-loving Father Angelo Rosetti, who seems to be the only unambiguously moral character in the play, is not so hot about Jacob staying with the church and tries to convince Cardinal Hammond to let Jacob go. His advice is rewarded with scorn and contempt (and the need to carry around a bell to warn Cardinal Hammond of his presence).
Will is the young hustler who's made the accusations against Jacob, but keeps recanting and recapitulating his story, and it's never clear if he's doing this out of guilt or out of a desire to scam people. Will told his story about Jacob to Katherine, a reporter who was once a part of the Catholic Church that Cardinal Hammond had high hopes for (she was being groomed to be part of the clergy at one point).
Katherine pays Will handsomely for his story, as well as checks him into a psychiatric home at her expense, and is clearly engaged in a sexual relationship with him. Now, does this sound like an impartial reporter just doing her job to seek out the truth to you? The means and methods she deploys to find out what, if anything, happened between Jacob and Will are very interesting, and by "interesting," I mean "shockingly inappropriate and immoral."
With Cathedral, Pintauro has deftly written a stimulating show with characters doing the right things for wrong reasons and vice versa, keeping the audience engaged for the bulk of the 90-minute run time.
However, there's a fundamental problem with this show: Jon Ecklund plays Jacob as simultaneously blasé and self-righteous about the very, very serious accusations against him. Father Jacob doesn't seem to be particularly concerned about these allegations. He treats them as if part of a vaguely philosophical conundrum. Regardless of whether or not the allegations are true (and unlike John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, Cathedral eventually answers the question of "what happened?"), being an older man—a priest, no less—accused of having sex with a minor is nothing to scoff at. Whether this is a stylistic choice from Pintauro, Ecklund, or both, I believe this to be an error. It deprives the core story of any tension and the main character of any sympathy.
Even with the core story out of alignment, many of the side stories are very intriguing, particularly Katherine's. Kate Middleton does a magnificent job playing Katherine as someone who's crossing serious ethical lines out of bitterness and anger, yet is still believable and, in an odd way, likable.
Cary Woodworth plays Will with a lot of nice pent-up frenetic energy, and also plays a younger version of Father Jacob who appears to Jacob in visions (this subplot is a bit confusing, since Father Angelo is also able to see him).
Vincent Marano is particularly amusing as the bemused and skeptical Father Angelo, and Tom Godfrey plays Cardinal Hammond as a befuddled old codger with fading vision who may be more devious and manipulative than one might believe.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't offer a note of congratulations to Jason Jeunnette's excellent lighting design, in particular for recreating the image of a cathedral's stained glass window over the proceedings, making Manhattan Theatre Source really feel like the inside of a church.
So yes. I obviously have some reservations and problems with this show. But reservations aside, I do recommend it. It poses serious moral quandaries in compelling and entertaining ways. It's funny and thought provoking. And it calls upon the audience to ask many questions, even if one of those questions is from where Jacob gets his nerve.