It’s all-out war between romance and reality in Kelly Masterson’s new gay-themed play, “Dare Not Speak Its Name.” Tenderness seems to win in the story of a 30-year-old Catholic priest and a fatherless 16-year-old boy, but the ending is also a cop-out, leaving too many what-happens-next questions unanswered — not least those questions raised by a district attorney hellbent on hauling the priest into court for sexual abuse of a minor.
Elsewhere, too much of the play is repetitive and self-conscious, and there’s clearly room for Masterson to cut some things while amplifying more important ones, such as the role of the boy’s mother, who also loves the priest.
The play shortchanges the Catholic Church, content to paint it as uncaring, self-serving and all too willing to throw the erring priest to the wolves even though there has been no sexual abuse. Nevertheless, “Dare Not Speak Its Name” is several cuts above any of the other plays the Seven Angels Theater has premiered in its six years of existence, and it does dare to raise a tricky subject with some skill and theatrical sophistication.
Masterson skillfully blends past and present as his play unfolds. Scenes overlap and interact, never more persuasively than when the case investigator is separately interrogating the priest and the boy about what happened one night on a camping trip, the interrogation and the scene in the priest’s tent interweaving with flair.
On the whole, the cast is fine, though director Richard Sabellico has sometimes encouraged overacting and there are moments when cuteness rears its head. But there’s no doubt that Joey Adams, as the troubled teenager, Louie, and Alex Woods, as the honorable, if not always bright, Father Vince, make a handsome, believable pair of lovers, love rather than sex being the operative word here. Masterson does at times over-stress the fact that the priest all too often acts as if he’s younger and less mature than the teenager he loves.
Elizabeth Hess, as the boy’s mother, brings a vivid presence to an underwritten role, while Ethan James Duff has a harder time in another underwritten part as the young accuser. Russ Anderson can’t do any more than the playwright has done with a district attorney who is written as a one-dimensional bad guy. Cheryl Rogers brings some welcome depth to the case investigator, who, like the priest, becomes too emotionally involved with teenagers in her care.
“Dare Not Speak Its Name” is sometimes too careful and genteel for its own good, but it has enough going for it to suggest that Masterson might well buckle down and continue mining it for its full possibilities.