nytheatre.com review by Travis Richards
February 21, 2009
In a world full of complex issues—the justification of wars, deciding what the "best" climate for the planet should be, starvation, disease, hate, and let's not forget the almighty dollar—the amount of time and effort people put into arguing over sex and gay marriage has always baffled me. What's the big deal? Is it not blatantly obvious that this "issue" is perpetuated solely by the naysayers' insecurities? What does sexual preference have to do with two people expressing love for one another? And what the hell is so wrong with enjoying sex? (God knows I have had enough bad sex in my life to say definitively that bad sex is NOT the way to salvation.) But then again as a recovering/reformed Catholic myself, I could write a book of biblical proportions (pun most definitely intended) on "beliefs" that make no sense whatsoever. (Though from my strong cynical sense of irony I sort of dig juxtaposing an "all-loving" God with eternal damnation. What can I say it makes me chuckle). Avow takes on a much more "balanced" (and far less cynical) look at the issues of sex, gay marriage, and the Catholic church.
Avow is written by Bill C. Davis. It tells the story of Brian and Tom, a couple who wish to have their commitment to one another recognized by their priest, Father Raymond. While supporting their relationship, Father Raymond states that they must be celibate in order to be part of the church. Irene, Brian's single and pregnant sister, tries to convince Father Raymond to reconsider his position on celibacy and bless Brian and Tom's vow. A sexual tension evolves between Irene and Father Raymond that forces Father Raymond to reexamine his own vow of celibacy.
For the most part the company does well in keeping the audience engaged throughout the production. The director, Jerry Less, is excellent at keeping the play flowing effortlessly from scene to scene. This is helped considerably by the creative and efficient use of the theatre space. The only questionable decision regarding the stage is the choice to paint the walls of the space sky blue with white clouds. While I assume it is some type of allusion to heaven, it is far from aesthetically pleasing and is more of a distraction than an accelerant.
The acting is a mixed bag. Kate Middleton is great as Irene. She does an amazing job maintaining the character's vulnerability and sexuality while bringing strength to the strongest character in the play. Her scenes with Jeremiah Wiggins, who plays Fr. Raymond, are far and away the most engaging of the play. Accordingly, Wiggins's characterization of Fr. Raymond is on par with Middleton's. He eloquently conveys the complexity of the character's internal confusion and reluctance to lead while still being an authority figure. Timothy Sekk is dynamic and very believable in his portrayal of Brian. Unfortunately, Jaron Farnham's characterization of Tom lacks the depth to complement Sekk's solid performance. Farnham is disconnected from his character and scenes involving him suffer as a result.
As for the supporting cast, Elizabeth Bove in the role of Julie (Fr. Raymond's housekeeper) and Christopher Graham in his role as Fr. Raymond's mentor, Fr. Nash, do well in moving the story along. Joy Franz's portrayal of Rose, Brian and Irene's mother, is hit and miss. At times her comedic timing is stellar. However, her character's transformation from a mother with severe issues concerning her children to an accepting one is far from effective.
Gay sex, the Catholic Church, and a priest flirting with a pregnant single woman: if that's not a recipe for a good evening of theatre, tell me what is. Though at times the acting can hold the play back, overall Avow is definitely worth seeing.