Theater Review: 100 Saints You Should Know at USF College of the Arts

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The production begins with those dancers, Nick Horan and Dan Rosenstrauch, in one of choreographer Lynn Marie Ruse’s potent if too-portentous duets. Then Fodor’s play (the dance sequences aren’t in the script) comes alive. We meet Theresa, who’s been so kicked around by life as a single mother she’s beginning to wonder if God hasn’t been making her “ready” to pray. Theresa’s biggest problem is daughter Abby, who takes drugs and sleeps around, urinates outdoors and tells her mother that she hates her. When Abby meets grocery boy Garrett, she cajoles him into admitting that he surfs gay internet sites on his father’s computer, and challenges him to get really drunk and strip off her clothes.


Meanwhile, Father Matthew turns out to be fascinated by Christian mystic poetry that sounds as if it were describing gay sex, and confesses to the audience that he’s been suspended from the church for having been found with art photos of naked men. In some of the most poignant scenes in the play, Theresa tries to get spiritual guidance from Matthew at precisely the moment that he’s feeling most alienated from the church. An urgent crisis involving all these characters brings the themes together, and finally Matthew has to decide what’s more important to him, his faith or his sexuality. If we had any doubt, those oh-so-corporeal dancers are always ready to show up and place their votes.


The production, presented by the USF College of the Arts, features wonderful acting, with the one exception of Manny Franco as Father Matthew. Franco is not yet a technically proficient performer, and mostly mopes around through the play’s two acts without showing variety or depth. But as his mother Colleen, Jessica Dingman is superb, easily convincing us that it was her voice and not God’s that sent Matthew into the priesthood. Dingman’s Colleen sports a fine Irish accent, and in her frumpy light purple robe — designed by Marilyn Gaspardo Bertch — she stands for all well-meaning people who dominate and intimidate others while imagining themselves complete softies.


As wayward Abby, Destiny Ramsey (above, with Patrick Bolger) is a parent’s nightmare, living for self with no regard for others, despising all authority and happily putting nerdish Garrett in personal danger. As Garrett, Bolger is close to perfect: he’s got ADHD, he’s dangerously naïve, and he thinks nothing of medicating his mental distress with alcohol. Finally, Tia Jemison is warm, bright and loving as Theresa, who once was a Deadhead, and now is starting to think that there may be a God to follow instead.


Director Glamsch is one of the most skillful and innovative artists in the Bay area (which, unfortunately for us, he may be leaving soon), and he creates a constantly interesting pageant, using all ground areas as well as upper platforms in the Theatre II space. Designer Amanda Williams simply furnishes that space — Colleen’s living room here, Abby’s bedroom up there — but the dialogue of the play is so specific and realistic, a more photographic design is really unnecessary. And speaking of photographs, it’s a nice touch to have Colleen’s house include pictures of the Pope and the Kennedys.


So can sex and religion mix?


Father Matthew thinks he knows, and so does his mother.


You decide which of them is headed in the right direction.


There are two sets of crises in 100 Saints You Should Know, one religious, one sexual. The religious crises are experienced by a priest named Matthew, who’s losing his faith, and a cleaning woman named Theresa, who’s just beginning to gain hers. The sexual crises involve Matthew again – he’s discovering that he’s gay and that he needs physical intimacy – and 16-year-old Garrett, who already knows that he’s gay, but is reluctant to out himself. There are two other important characters — Abby, Theresa’s rule-breaking daughter, and Colleen, Matthew’s dogmatic mother — and then there are the two near-nude dancers who, in Kerry Glamsch’s ambitious staging of the play, punctuate the action with intense slow-motion homoerotic couplings set to music including Gregorian chant.

The ultimate result is mixed: the play is original in its treatment of the ebb and flow of faith, formulaic in its scenes of gay self-actualization, and both spectacular and overly pious — sexually pious! — in its choreography. Still, author Kate Fodor is unafraid to aim for big game (her previous play was about who else, Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt), and on several occasions she scores a direct hit. This may not be a totally successful work of theater, but it’s provocative and daring. At the very least, it’ll give you something to talk about.

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