Father Raymond is as compassionate as he possibly can be, but, spouting his dogma, he sends the men home with a "No." Immediately, Brian and Tom fall into a quandary of conflicted feelings. Brian lambastes the church he loves while Tom goes off into a tailspin regarding celibacy.
Enter Irene (Sarah Knowlton), Brian's pregnant, unwed sister. Hormones raging, Irene seeks out Father Raymond to advocate Brian and Tom's marriage. Brimming with her own brand of brazen, foul-mouthed, angry sexuality, Irene puts forth a compelling plea to Raymond. Sparks fly and love raises its head. (Who would have thunk it!?)
Enter Rose (Jane Powell), Brian and Irene's very funny (yet estranged) mother. In one early scene, Irene askes her two children to a family reconciliation lunch. Things get off to a rocky start: "So here I am with my gay son and my unwed pregnant daughter." Mom's sense of humor provides almost all of the laughs in Avow, a play so predictable that you guess the ending before the fist act is even over.
What playwright Davis is yet again trying to do is debate personally the issues between church and human emotion and desire. In Mass Appeal, Davis had a young priest debating with an older priest; here, it's family versus those age-old notions of Catholicism. "The Church is in a dream world," Irene says as she confronts Father Raymond. No matter which side of the fence you sit on in regard to gay marriage, or how you feel about unwed motherhood, Avow will set your mind whirling.
Director Hofsiss has assembled AAA talents for the production team. David Jenkins' simple set, in which a handsome bed takes center stage, works on two levels. Julie Weiss' costumes are fetching, particularly the delightful suits for Jane Powell. Ken Billington, one of the deans of Broadway lighting, fills the stage with just the right shine to set the rectory away from the other playing areas while always reminding us that the bed is right there in the middle of everything.
Acting wise, the casting of Christopher Sieber, Scott Ferrara, and Alan Campbell in the lead roles is an audience member's dream. When was the last time you saw three better looking guys spar with one another on stage? As Irene, Sarah Knowlton is fine, if a bit shrill at times. Reathel Bean and Kathleen Doyle are effective in smaller roles are.
Still, it's M-G-M star Jane Powell who all but steals the show. Powell brandishes a two-fisted wit and a true command of stage language, and seems to revel in every moment handed to her by Davis and Hofsiss. She turns this quick-talking Catholic mother into a true character with a real dramatic arc.
Despite its rather pat ending, Avow should be a crowd pleaser. It's a throwback to those matinee shows of yesteryear that used to fill theaters in New York; shows that made you think and laugh at the same time.
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