A Desire for Honesty

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theatre for KCRW.

Kate Fodor's play 100 Saints You Should Know is all about longing. There's a longing for faith, a longing for intimacy, a longing for a real connection with your child, and perhaps most poignantly - a longing for honesty.

ab110531poster.jpg100 Saints follows the journey of a young Roman Catholic priest who's discovered his own longing. While innocently browsing through the stacks of his local library, Father MacNally comes across a book of art photographs of men . . . naked men. You can guess what happens next . . . he's asked to leave and 'pray about it' for three months. So he goes to the only place he can - back to his widowed Irish mother, Colleen, who's in denial about her son. There's another parent and child duo in the lay; Theresa, a down on her luck cleaning woman and her rebellious teenage daughter Abby. As Father McNally is questioning the church and his faith, Theresa is struggling to find hers. She's had a bit too much of the flesh and wants some faith, while Father MacNally is working from the opposite extreme. But they both long for connection, for meaning.

The catalyst that ties the story together is a young kid who delivers groceries in the neighborhood who, wait for it . . . is questioning his own sexuality and faith.

If this all sounds a bit familiar, it is. Now whether that's because Kate Fodor's play walks down a familiar path or it's because the Catholic Church can't seem to stay out of the headlines is up for discussion.

Saints is well balanced...perhaps to a fault. We meet our five characters in little snippets of scenes where we slowly learn all their salient back story. We unravel what got Father MacNally exiled to his mother's house. We learn about how Theresa ended up a single mother with a teenage daughter and a job as the maid at Father MacNally's rectory. We learn about their hungers. Then, structurally right where it should be, a crisis occurs that unites all the characters. If you connect all the dots it looks like a well made play.

Sadly, I found myself longing along with the characters. What was missing for me, in both the play and the Elephant Theater Company's production, was honesty. It's not that there's anything particularly dishonest but there's never a transcendent moment that touches the audience or takes their breath away. Where there should be startling, honest writing that reveals a character's soul, there is smart writing that moves the plot along and ties up a loose end. You hear the teenage daughter saying things that make more sense for the larger arc of the story than for the moment at hand. You get characters neatly arranged with opposing journeys rather than the messy honesty that carries us into the unknown. You get a final moment of redemption, that neither the characters nor the actors have really earned.

It's too bad because it's precisely the longing for connection and honesty that brings us to the theater.

100 Saints You Should Know plays at the Elephant Theater in Hollywood through June 26.

For info on the show text the word "curtain" to 69866 or join the conversation at KCRW.com/theatre.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theatre for KCRW.

Banner image: Kate Huffman and Marco Naggar. Photo: Sven Ellirand