100 Saints You Should Know raises questions about homosexuality and Christianity
By Kate Fodor. Directed by Anthony F. Ingram. A Pacific Theatre production. At Pacific Theatre on Friday, May 4. Continues until May 26
There’s some terrific acting here. But do we really care about generic coming-out stories anymore? And are Christian anxieties interesting to anybody but Christians?
In 100 Saints You Should Know, which premiered at New York’s Playwrights Horizons in 2007, a young priest named Matthew is asked to take a three-month leave from his duties while he sorts out the issues raised by his collection of art photos of naked men. Matthew returns to his widowed mother’s home and tries to avoid her puzzled probing.
As he struggles with losing his faith, Theresa, who cleans the rectory where Matthew lived, yearns for belief in something that will help her to transcend the troubles she’s having with her belligerent 16-year-old daughter, Abby.
When Theresa comes to Matthew’s mom’s house looking for spiritual counsel from the priest, Abby, who’s along for the ride, meets the grocery boy, Garrett, who is also struggling with coming out—and worrying about what his inclinations might mean in the eyes of the Lord.
As written, Garrett is a quirky nerd. Getting hammered with Abby, he protests, “I don’t want to be as gay as a big fruit salad.” And, in a performance that’s deeply thorough and downright inspired, actor Chris Lam makes Garrett irresistible. When Matthew gives Garrett a pair of old shoes, Garrett can’t help but sniff them and you can’t help but love him for it.
Because Garrett is an original creation, and because queer teen experience is seldom represented in the theatre, Garrett’s narrative carries some weight, but it doesn’t go far. Instead, the script concentrates on Matthew’s story, which is far less interesting. Matthew frets about being aroused by the statue-like models of photographer George Platt Lynes, but who cares? I have no doubt that coming out is still hard for Catholic priests, but surely, in Canada at least, the majority of the theatregoing public has moved past the Vatican’s homophobic stance. The simple problematization of homosexuality, which is what we get in Matthew’s narrative, feels antique.
And the play’s discussion of faith feels deliberate. Quoting St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Matthew describes prayer as “a surge of the heart, a cry of recognition and love.” All of the characters are looking for something like that, but their discussions take on the air of an earnest seminar. As the recent production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot made clear, theatrical explorations of Christian principles can be compelling for those outside the faith. 100 Saints won’t work as well for outsiders—at least it didn’t for this one.
Fortunately, Lam doesn’t deliver the only admirable performance in director Anthony F. Ingram’s interpretation. Rebecca deBoer plays Theresa with such authenticity, such ease and understatement that she is a nonstop joy to watch. Joel Stephanson brings winning, deadpan humour and subtle responsiveness to Matthew.
Katherine Gauthier (Abby) and Kerry Norris (Matthew’s mom, Colleen) are less successful. Neither piece of work is bad but both are generalized and overstated.
Lauchlin Johnston’s elemental set—a white, T-shaped object centre stage—accommodates the play’s many locations.
Ultimately, though, the play doesn’t add up to much.