The Savannah Disputation/by EVan Smith/directed by Cameron Watson/Colony Theatre/through July 8
For religious fanatics & theologians The Savannah Disputation should hold plenty of interest, as EVan Smith has written a smart exploration of Catholic versus Fundamentalist beliefs. Do you really know your faith inside out? Can you interpret the Bible with intelligence, keeping an open mind? Or do you accept tenets blindly, permitting them to govern everything you say and do? For those less religiously inclined or whose religion does not include Jesus, think twice before attending this play. But if you're into drama purely for its entertainment value, there is no dispute as to Savannah's remarkable four person cast, sharp direction by Cameron Watson and offbeat piquant humor.
As I watched the play, its Southern location seemed insignificant; it could have been Massachusetts, where I grew up, and Margaret O'Brien
(Bonnie Bailey-Reed) could very well have been my mother, clicking her rosary, leading a pretty sheltered life, but always sociable to and caring of strangers. Her sister Mary (Anne Gee Byrd
) is like me, a believer to a point, but a fiercely independent objector - "I Want to think for myself", refusing to allow others to label her gullible, weak
or, as she likes to point the finger - stupid
. Father Murphy (JosH Clark
) could very well have been my cousin Jim, who lost his faith and finally left the priesthood, totally disillusioned. So, here's Father Murphy, past middle age, who doesn't give up but is trying desperately to hold onto his faith. What makes it worse is that Mary corners him to defend Catholicism, putting their lifelong friendship in jeopardy. Then there's the missionary Melissa (Rebecca Mozo
) whom they are all out to crush
...who at a young age has already experienced much personal disillusionment and takes on missionary work in the hopes of filling a huge void. Little does she realize that you have to really know what you're talking about in order to succeed, especially when you're dealing with a brilliant intellect and theologian like Father Murphy, who has seen, experienced and written about it all.
As to dramatic fireworks, there's an intensely explosive argument midway wherein all four, in a nutshell, attempt to make sense out of the contradictions of Catholicism and the bible - any version. The moral: it just isn't possible, as no religion is without contradictions ... and why let it ruin your relationships in the process? Believe what you believe, if it moves you - but make sure you know what it means in detail, particularly if you expect to convert someone else, and be tolerant at all costs! Through all of this discussion there's an infectious sense of humor. Two examples: Melissa's cell phone rings to the tune of "Mission Impossible" and when Father Murphy is accidentally called Father McKenzie, he cleverly interjects "He's the priest in "Eleanor Rigby"!
The ensemble is delightful, under Watson's clean, well-paced direction. Byrd brings great humanity to the feisty, cranky and bewildered Mary, as does Reed to the simpler, soft-spoken Margaret. Mozo adds great vulnerability and enthusiasm to Melissa, who, in spite of her weaknesses, really does care. Clark is wonderful as Father Murphy, clinging to his faith and making his friends do the same in spite of their doubts and insecurities. Stephen Gifford's set design of the sisters' old Catholic homestead is lived-in perfect.
Oh, did I mention, that despite my Catholic upbringing, I left the Church years ago? It no longer suits me. A word of wisdom to converts to any religion: make sure you know and want what you're getting yourself into! The Savannah Disputation contains a raft of religious issues, but hopefully, you will still laugh and find your own sense of clear sailing within the fog. Believe, but don't be afraid to march to the tune of your own drummer!
For more, visit http://www.colonytheatre.org/