×

100 Saints You Should Know

Earnest plays about the search for religious faith (or the loss of same) are, perforce,CQ mainly of interest to other like-minded searchers (or losers). But Kate Fodor's "100 Saints You Should Know" has more going for it than its schematic plot about a priest who has lost his vocation and the rectory housecleaner who badgers him for spiritual direction.

With:
Theresa - Janel Moloney Matthew - Jeremy Shamos Abby - Zoe Kazan Colleen - Lois Smith Garrett - Will Rogers

Earnest plays about the search for religious faith (or the loss of same) are, perforce, mainly of interest to other like-minded searchers (or losers). But Kate Fodor’s “100 Saints You Should Know” has more going for it than its schematic plot about a priest who has lost his vocation and the rectory housecleaner who badgers him for spiritual direction. While restricted in their thoughts, Fodor’s closely observed characters speak well for themselves. And in the engaging performances of an all-pro Playwrights Horizons cast, they earn the attention they crave.

Helmer Ethan McSweeny’s sensitive reading of the material and an extremely classy cast make all the difference in a production of this episodic and none-too-original drama about the difficulties of grasping and holding onto one’s beliefs in a modern world.

Matthew is a young Catholic priest, his selfless and compassionate nature so persuasively portrayed by Jeremy Shamos (“Reckless”) that he could pose for Vatican recruitment posters. Theresa (Janel Moloney) is the hired housekeeper who cleans his toilet, along with the rest of the rectory, and in Moloney’s warm and wisely understated perf, she’s as nice as he is — and just as troubled.

It isn’t love, or even sex, that makes Matthew and Theresa soulmates; it’s religious conviction. The priest seems to have lost his, just as his nonreligious housekeeper feels the first stirrings of hers. And when Matthew bolts from the rectory for his mother’s home, Theresa follows him.

Their separate but intersecting quests for belief would be more involving had Fodor not been so stingy with the past and present details of their lives. Priests are, after all, only human; but Matthew seems not to have a friend in the world, not even a professional colleague or an old basketball buddy to confide in, and he rattles around in his lonely rectory without dropping a clue about the kind of parish work he does.

What Matthew does have is his mother, Colleen, a pious Irish-Catholic widow who gets no quarter from actress Lois Smith (“The Trip to Bountiful”). In her scrupulously honest portrayal, Smith allows us to pity Colleen, a stern and rigid moralist who has stripped life down to its simplest, most comfortable rituals. But while she fairly depicts Colleen’s frustration in trying to get past Matthew’s defensiveness, the actress reveals the fear and moral cowardice in this mother’s ultimate inability to give her son the love and comfort he cries out for.

Theresa has a tad more to work with, being the single mother of a rebellious teenage daughter to whom she has given the comically ill-fitting old-fashioned name of Abby (Zoe Kazan). In an eye-catching perf built on solid technical proficiency, Kazan (“The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”) gives full rein to this foul-mouthed and willful brat, indulging her boastful fantasies of being a “bad girl.” But this smart young thesp also peels Abby down to her little-girl core, the child who wants direction from her too-permissive mom.

Visually, there’s not a whole lot to look at in this spare production, so Mimi O’Donnell’s amusingly ugly costumes for Abby (love that flippy skirt) are welcome eye candy. And Rachel Hauck has designed a stunning abstract tree — its slender, silvery branches reaching upward to you-know-where — that takes on even more meaning when Garrett (Will Rogers) is introduced.

Garrett, a gangly kid who delivers groceries to Matthew’s homebound mother, is about as old as Abby but far less experienced. In his disarmingly guileless attempts to please, he’s the perfect foil for her experimental attempts to be “bad.” Although Rogers plays some goofy vocal games that do the character no good, the young thesp is something to watch as he slouches and squirms and occasionally even holds his ground.

Structurally, Fodor has written an articulate, if dramatically circular play, with the overlong and repetitive setup scenes in the first act methodically paying off in the second. Because her thesis is as much about the yearning for human warmth as the quest for abstract faith, there isn’t actually much talk about religious doctrine. But in the end, scribe relies on an arbitrary plot crisis — rather than more satisfying character interaction — to spur the sad people in her play to rethink the thoughts that have kept them going in circles looking for faith. Or whatever they want to call the love they yearn for.

100 Saints You Should Know

Playwrights Horizons; 198 seats; $65 top

Production: A Playwrights Horizons presentation of a play in two acts by Kate Fodor. Directed by Ethan McSweeny.

Creative: Sets, Rachel Hauck; costumes, Mimi O'Donnell; lighting, Jane Cox; sound, Matt Hubbs; production stage manager, Michaella K. McCoy. Opened Sept. 18, 2007. Reviewed Sept. 14. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.

Cast: Theresa - Janel Moloney Matthew - Jeremy Shamos Abby - Zoe Kazan Colleen - Lois Smith Garrett - Will Rogers

More Legit

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Her publicist B. Harlan Boll confirmed the news. He wrote, “It is with [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

  • Choir Boy review

    Broadway Review: 'Choir Boy'

    Honestly, I was afraid that “Choir Boy” — the sweetly exuberant account of a gifted prep school boy’s coming of age, written by “Moonlight” Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney — would be swallowed up in a Broadway house, after winning us over in an Off Broadway staging in 2013.  But aside from the odd set [...]

  • Jason Robert Brown

    Listen: How Ariana Grande Got Jason Robert Brown to Madison Square Garden

    Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown never expected to find himself performing onstage at Madison Square Garden. But he did — thanks to his pal Ariana Grande. Brown met Grande before she was a superstar, when she was in the 2008 Broadway cast of his teen musical “13.” The two have kept in touch ever since [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content