Give D. Paul Thomas credit for tackling big issues in “The Presentment,” currently receiving its world premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse. The drama examines the intersection between the religious and the personal by focusing on gay Christians and their role in today’s Episcopal Church. Unfortunately, Thomas’ ambitions surpass his abilities and his play, its good intentions notwithtanding, is a hopeless muddle that confuses more than it elucidates.
Inspired by the real-life heresy trial of Bishop Walter Righter, Thomas’ play touches on such issues as the blessing of homosexual unions, the rights of gay priests and the validity of Scripture. Thomas sets his debates not in some grand ecclesiastical court but around the family dining table of Michael and Rebecca Jennings (Daniel Nathan Spector and Maura Vincent). He’s an out-of-work actor and she’s a successful lawyer. Unexpectedly, the couple play host to Michael’s parents, Samuel and Eleanor (Jerry Hardin and K Callan), who have dropped in for supper.
Samuel is no ordinary dad; he’s the lead prosecutor in the heresy trial of gay priest David Thompson (John Demita), and Rev. Thompson just happens to be a close friend of Michael and Rebecca’s houseguest Jonathan (Jeff Allin). “How convenient,” one can almost hear Dana Carvey’s Church Lady intone.
The wheels within wheels don’t stop there, for Jonathan is intimately connected to the Jennings family in more complex ways. Ultimately, most of the “revelations” are telegraphed pretty early on, and that predictability is among this play’s greatest weaknesses. But there are other serious flaws as well. Thomas’ dialogue is cliche-ridden and dreary, and he has no sense of where to end scenes or even acts.
Moreover, the Jenningses aren’t a very interesting, or believable, family to begin with. The most compelling character by far is the angry Jonathan, and he’s often sleeping, suffering from some unspoken malady, presumably AIDS (ah, yet another original touch).
Try as they might, the generally fine players can’t save this show, though they put up a good fight. Spector’s Michael is earnest and expressive, as is Vincent’s Rebecca. Allin’s Jonathan possesses an engaging spark despite his frailty, and Demita in his few scenes is convincing as the accused priest. Even the often-unsteady Callan conveys commitment.
Best of all is the excellent Jerry Hardin, who makes us feel Samuel’s torment and conviction. Still, it’s not enough.
Nor, for that matter, is Richard Seyd’s solid, though uninspired, direction, which uses nearly all of John Iacovelli’s sprawling set.
Broadway or further regional prospects should be out of the question until the script is seriously overhauled.