nytheatre.com review by Anthony Nelson
September 24, 2006
Fool's Mass, a performance piece directed by Matt Mitler and created by Dzieci, requires a bit of a disclaimer. If you are willing to endure potentially having water dumped on you, actors fall in your lap, people crawling over you collecting money for no specified purpose, and being dragged up to participate in a play, you will get to experience some wonderful moments of performance.
Gathered outside the doors of the Brick Theatre was a truly motley crew: nine or ten souls dressed in ragged costumes (created by Karen Hatt) that looked as if someone had merged medieval peasant garb with hints of 19th century asylum patient's gowns were congregating, waiting for their performance to begin. There were men and women, young and old, and two very young children dressed in costumes of their own, although they did not appear in the final production. They disappeared into the theatre, and would reappear from time to time while we waited for the play to begin. As they reappeared, the show's very simple premise was established: these people, a gathering of village idiots for lack of a better description, were helping Father Jerzy, who cares for them, arrange a mass. As we were led into the theatre, the cast engaged in a number of simple interactions with us (one woman stared fiercely at me and several other audience members for moments on end), establishing the simple-mindedness of all the characters and their enthusiasm for the upcoming mass.
The show really begins after the first hymn is sung, and one grief-stricken parishioner emerges to tell us all that the father is dead. From there, these sweet villagers must reconstruct the mass. The villagers try to remember what comes next in the ceremony,and in what I assume are improvised bits, they remember it and then create a simplified version of it, often incorporating audience participation (I was called upon to read from the book of Micah). The pieces are funny, but the performers don't stoop to out-and-out improv comedy and never break the conceit that they are little more than medieval villagers. Some elements tend to drag on and on, and there is far too much time wasted trying to figure out the next part of the mass to move onto, but when a section works, it is sublime.
The ensemble's names are listed without parts, but when one actor struggles to explain what Father Jerzy meant to everyone and remind his friends that the church should be a place only of good, the honesty of his performance touched me. The lovely singing voices of many of the actors help give a quality of holiness that lets parts of this performance really ring of simple souls reaching for the divine, and not just people in funny costumes clowning. It's not for everyone; the man next to me leaned over and said loudly, "This is Godspell on Quaaludes," but those with open minds and a spiritual bent will find a great deal of beauty in Fool's Mass.