THEATER REVIEW: ‘MASS APPEAL’ Actors impeccably execute a massively funny script

The Herald-Times

Posted: Monday, August 25, 2014

By Matthew Waterman H-T Reviewer 

“It’s not an accident the collection comes after the sermon. It’s like the Nielsen ratings!”

This concept of popularity as a goal of preaching gives “Mass Appeal” its title. This two-character dramatic comedy, featuring actors Paul Daily (John Waldron Arts Center’s artistic director) and John Whikehart (Bloomington’s deputy mayor), lends us a hilarious and thought-provoking look into Catholic priesthood.

Father Tim Farley (Whikehart) is an experienced priest who has garnered adoration and loyalty from his parish. His sermons are pleasant and agreeable, his personal consolations generic and efficient. When a young seminarian called Mark Dolson (Daily) seizes the opportunity of Father Farley’s weekly dialogue sermon to challenge his stance against the ordination of women, Farley is infuriated yet slightly engrossed.

Under the surface of Dolson’s rogue persona is a deeply thoughtful, passionate and honest man. Perhaps Farley senses this right off the bat, or perhaps it’s only out of spite that Farley requests for Dolson to be assigned to him by the seminary.

The two men’s pairing is almost entirely acrimonious at first. Farley and Dolson hold polarized views on matters so fundamental as the purpose of the church and the responsibilities of priesthood.

Dolson, irreverent of institutional hierarchy, doesn’t hesitate to call Monsignor Burke (a pivotal offstage character who is a significant rector of the seminary) a “homophobic autocrat.”

Additionally, Dolson doesn’t hold back from condemning his teacher’s reliance on white lies, alcohol and gambling to get through the more vexatious parts of his profession. As Father Farley puts it: “I go to the races on Sunday to get over the Masses on Monday.”

And as Father Farley later advises: “If you want to be a priest, lie.”

Daily and Whikehart, under the direction of Jeffery Allen (director of Ivy Tech’s Center for Lifelong Learning), impeccably execute Bill C. Davis’ massively funny script. The two actors share flawless comic timing and a strong sense for dry humor.

Even though “Mass Appeal” teems with devastating laughs, the play is far from farcical. Each character has invaluable lessons to glean from the other, but especially Farley from Dolson. What Mark Dolson lacks in respect for authority and tradition, he makes up for in passion for Christ’s message.

Playwright Davis received a full Catholic education. Like his character Mark Dolson, Davis was scolded for laughing in church as a child. “Mass Appeal” satirizes the conservatism of the Catholic Church, but is by no means an anti-religious piece. Rather, Davis likely wrote it to address his feelings of what Catholicism should be.

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