Square One has Mass Appeal
Moved into its new Stratford space, Square One Theatre Company has proved that it doesn’t matter where it sets up shop; it has the secret to success.
That not-so-secret formula happens to be artistic director Tom Holehan, who is apparently a bit of a magician. He can take a company and move it from its traditional proscenium stage theater that seats 240 patrons and turn it into a black-box theater company playing to 64 seats. The difference is that the intimacy it once had is not only intact, but better. The current production of Bill C. Davis’ Mass Appeal works like a charm and holds the audience spellbound. Mass Appeal is the name of the current production, but do know that this theater company has plenty of mass appeal of its own.
Not only was the seating reconfigured for this company, but staging and blocking the production, which takes place an arm’s length from the audience, needed more than a simple abracadabra. As usual Holehan knows how to cast a show and by casting Darius James Copland and Frank Smith, he conjured up a very big hit within a very little space.
To be so up close to the action is a whole other experience for theatergoers as well for the actors. Audiences are in awe of Copland and Smith as they weave their performances through an intricate relationship between a popular parish priest and a fiery young seminarian.
Copland plays the idealistic and highly emotional seminary student Mark Dolson who wants to preach fire and brimstone, while Smith plays the intellectual, experienced and reasonable priest Father Tim Farley. Both actors bring out the best of their roles, even though the premise doesn’t seem as shocking as it once was in the 1980s when the Catholic Church had to deal with priests who were pedophiles who had found safe harbor in the priesthood.
Sadly, this news isn’t quite so shocking today. Society has just about heard it all. There are other issues in the play including homosexuality, the ends justifying the means, and lying. It is only when two young seminarians are suspected of having a homosexual relationship and Dolson comes to their defense that problems bubble and brew.
That aside, as soon as Father Farley steps up to the pulpit to deliver his opening sermon and makes the Sign of the Cross, some audience members did the same. Smith has no problem gaining control of the audience, even though he can see the expression on each patron’s face. He has no problem stepping into the song and dance routine of a complacent priest who likes to drink his wine, play some golf, go to the race track and keep his parish satisfied. Smith steps into this role with a convincing air of superiority. His Father Farley is not going to let a young idealist mess up his comfy position.
However, as soon as Copland as Dolson the seminarian speaks out in church about why women would make better priests than men, Father Farley’s conscience takes a detour. Copland is so wild and expressive that you can almost hear his heartbeat as his pulse quickens. That’s how close he is to the audience. His jaw line tightens and he inhales deeply, and the audience sees his frustration, hears it, and feels it.
Overall, this is an outstanding production with two excellent actors performing a fine play in 90 minutes with no intermission. The stage could have been just a table and desk, but Holehan added all the magic touches with a hanging stained glass window above the podium, a religious statue placed here and there and a painting of the Last Supper hanging on the wall behind the priest’s desks. Treat yourself to this fine experience. The production plays through Nov. 22 at Stratford Academy, 719 Birdseye Street, Stratford, CT. Box office: 203-375-8778.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org