ACTS OF CONTRITION
nytheatre.com review by Kwesi Cameron
Baseball stats, beers, burgers, and a couple of guys sitting
around talking at their vacation retreat. One of them looks and
acts like the clich�d jock. Nothing unusual about that. Except
the couple of guys happen to be priests.
August 15, 2003
Timothy Nolan’s Acts of Contrition disarmed me at first before drawing me into its increasingly disturbing story. The vacation house setting where the characters also perform their duties as priests in some scenes puts a human face on the story.
Tom, Joe, and Steve are three idealistic priests who have been friends since their seminary days. The three have dreams of changing the Catholic Church with a more enlightened ministry. Tom and Joe have arrived at their yearly vacation retreat to relax and have fun, but end up unsuccessfully trying to mask their frustration and anger at the third member of their trio who won’t be joining them this year. Tom has done some investigating and has found out that Steve has been "sent on a cruise," the priests’ euphemism for a priest who has been reassigned to another parish for alleged misconduct. Steve does finally show up, confused and seeking his friends’ help and understanding. As ugly secrets are revealed and the Cardinal repeats his mantra of "we keep each other’s secrets," suggesting the Church’s complicity, the priests are faced with life-changing decisions.
Vincent Marano tightly directs the excellent ensemble of Acts of Contrition, though the device of having the Cardinal serve as the priests’ conscience was sometimes intrusive. Gene Fanning, as the Cardinal, does a fine job of making realistic a character who could very easily go over the top as a dark villain. Shiek Mahmud-Bey, last year’s FringeNYC Overall Excellence in Performance winner, has the equally daunting task of making the accused priest, Steve, sympathetic and does a great job. James M. Armstrong and Mark Gorman (as Tom and Joe, respectively) are also excellent. The wel1-designed spare and functional set is by Eric Everett.
The issues in this timely, provocative play are testing the faith of Catholics as well as angering and confusing all of us. To the playwright’s credit he does not neatly tie up the play’s ends but leaves us with the sense that the questions will continue until there is change within the Church.