nytheatre.com review by Kimberly Wadsworth
August 15, 2009
Vincent Marano's Confirmation is billed as a "serio-comic" work about a young teacher coping with both his friends' romantic peccadilloes and one of his student's personal crises. However, I don't believe I've ever seen a play in which the "serio" and the "comic" were so markedly different.
The show opens light, when straitlaced Joe (Ethan Downing), a young teacher at a Catholic high school, moves into a seedy studio apartment with the help of his bohemian mother (Helene Galek) and two college friends, Myra (Corey Tazmania) and David (Timothy Dudek). As they work, the others swing between swapping bawdy tales about themselves, teasing Joe for being embarrassed by their talk, and needling him to reveal why he has left his wife. In these and other early scenes, David in particular revels in the outrageous, doing things like turning up unannounced at Joe's apartment at four in the morning with a new boyfriend—and a drunken Myra—in tow. But David's "new boyfriend" Ricky (John Triana) is one of Joe's students, who has not yet completely come out of the closet, and the stunt prompts a concerned visit from the school's principal, Father Cowan (Tod Engle).
When Ricky shows up at Joe's house after his father evicts him, the play completely shifts gears. The bawdy Myra of the earlier play is gone, and in her place is a lonely former lover of Joe's looking to reconnect; the flamboyant, camp David gives way to a friend who is shocked and hurt by some of Joe's actions towards the troubled Ricky. Marano's script even indulges in cliched jokes about Irish priests and drinking in Father Cowan's first scene, but in his second scene Father Cowan is suddenly giving Joe heartfelt and wise advice about tolerance and compassion.
It's true that many plays start by showing the characters' happier days, and then bringing on troubled times—but the shift here is so great that it feels like we've switched to an entirely different play, and we have to reacquaint ourselves with all the characters mid-show. The cast does a fine job presenting the different sides of their characters, but it's still a lot to ask an actor to do, and even more for an audience to process. The main character, Joe, goes through the bumpiest change—Joe goes from being a comic straight man at first to being disagreeably close-minded. Downing does what he can to balance the two Joes, but I still found myself starting to dislike him by the play's end, which was probably not Marano's intent. The play does say some decent things about compassion, but with a script that shifts gears this sharply, I'm afraid some of those things may go unheard.