Antoinette LaVecchia and Andy Paris (foreground)
with Amelia Workman in A World Apart
(© Jim Baldassare)
Antoinette LaVecchia and Andy Paris (foreground)
with Amelia Workman in A World Apart
(© Jim Baldassare)
Susan Mosakowski's A World Apart, now at The Flea Theater, raises some fascinating questions about things that divide us and the desires that bring us together or drive us even further apart. Unfortunately, shallow writing prevents the piece from ever taking flight.

Mother Augustina (Antoinette LaVecchia) is the head of an order of Cistercian nuns. A stern disciplinarian with a penchant for medieval mystics, Augustina's flirtations with unorthodox thought blossom into provocations of another kind when Father Daniel (Andy Paris), a handsome young Benedictine priest, comes to speak at the monastery. Needless to say, sparks fly.

Mosakowski raises some significant issues, such as what men and women of the cloth who have taken vows of celibacy do with their feelings of sexual desire, and what happens when they find that those feelings can't be denied.

Unfortuntately, she does not give us real flesh-and-blood characters to act them out; we get instead unbelievable, two-dimensional people who would be more at home in a spiritually themed romance novel. Moreover, we never even get to know them before the playwright launches full speed ahead with a debate that drops names like Hadewijch and Thomas Merton, but rarely pauses to take a breath. It's a particular interesting fault in a play that does have a couple of interesting things to say about the power of silence.

LaVecchia isn't too convincing from the outset as an abbess, which is more a matter of miscasting than a failure in the performance. Paris fares somewhat better as the priest, but is ultimately unable to rise above the purple dialogue. Amelia Workman fares best with her sensitve portrayal of the only remaining character onstage, Sister Cornelia, a young attendant nun.

Missing from view are characters in direct conflict with these troubled souls, such as the other sisters of the order who are shocked at the unexpected behavior of their mother superior, or the abbots who step in to discipline both nun and priest. Many of these antagonists are addressed but unseen. One almost expects them to respond in the off-screen "wah-wah-wahs" of the adults in Charlie Brown holiday specials.

Director Jean Randich's occasionally awkward staging doesn't succeed in strengthening the play's weaknesses, although there are occasional stage pictures that hint at a striking visual style. (One of the best involves a raised upstage window through which Cornelia catches a glimpse into the secret world of her mother superior.)

At the end of the night, however, A World Apart doesn't successfully negotiate the boundaries between problem play, sitcom, and soap opera.