Theatre Review: Mass Appeal, by Bill C. Davis, performed at the LaSalle Theatre by Michael Rawley and Shane Patrick McClurg

“Father Farley has been a priest for awhile and he certainly knows the preaching ropes. But when young Seminarian Mark Dolson is assigned to him by the rector, Farley is challenged by this bright eyed student to remember that it’s more important to have the congregation as your family in your heart, not the palm of your hand.”

Presented in the lobby of the historic LaSalle Theatre here in Kirkland Lake, Mass Appeal is superbly performed by the able talents of the estimable Michael Rawley and Shane Patrick McClurg. I’ve seen the work of these fine gentlemen in two previous performances — together in their first two-person show A Christmas Carol this past winter, and Shane as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as directed by Rawley. And as before, I was absolutely drawn in by their characters. In A Christmas Carol, McClurg tested his chops by quickly changing characters in Scrooge’s story, while Rawley played the crotchety old miser. In Mass Appeal, though, Shane plays the young, idealistic and enthusiastic Seminarian, and Rawley presents us with performances-within-the-performance when his Father Farley challenges Mark Dolson to think outside his comfort zone in role-plays. 

One of the beauties of performing in the LaSalle’s lobby is the flexibility of the space: the glass doors, curtained openings, and mirrors provide a setting both avant-garde and intimate. For this production, the space is decorated to resemble the environment of a Catholic church, complete with stained glass windows painted over the glass doors. The theatre takes place on the slim stage, within the audience, and behind us, wrapping us in the creative energy of the moment. It can be confusing at times, being addressed by a gowned priest at a pulpit in a small room thus decorated, but Rawley keeps the pacing quick and measured, reassuring us that we are observers participating with our eyes and ears alone. One may feel tempted to answer his questions in the opening dialogue -sermon, and I’m certain that if an audience member so engaged Father Farley, the response would be improvised and appropriate. But after the first scene, there is little doubt that as audience, we are being given the privilege to glimpse behind the altar and into the inner workings of the organization of a small-town Catholic church. 

And this is where the performance sharpens. In the first scene, Dolson challenges his soon-to-be-mentor by answering a question that was perhaps meant to titillate his parishioners, or at the very least, be rhetorical. After this introduction, we are brought into Father Farley’s office, and his decision to both counsel and confront Dolson with the realities of the ministry. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, he goes on to reveal; much of the priesthood is politics, knowing what to say and when, and an ample helping of psychology. This is not a reality that Dolson wants to accept, however, and both men are rapidly challenged by their opposing ideals, perceptions, and moralities. 

This play invites its audience to enjoy it on many levels. It’s a character study, an examination of what it means to someone to represent his deity within his faith, and what happens when his integrity is put under stress. The wit is quick and the laughs are many, disarming us so that the next revelation hits with even more significance. There is pain, too, which may not please an audience  member who has experienced personal tragedy of the kind mentioned in the dialogue, but that is what theatre is for: it’s a mirror for our lives, suggesting how each of us lives and responds to the human condition of love and loss. 

There are just four more performances of this show to be seen: Wednesday, August 6; Thursday, August 7; Friday, August 8; and Saturday, August 9, opening at 8 pm each night and running approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes (no intermission). The cost of each performance is $15 per person ($10 per student), with tickets available at Stage Left (the new theatre store next to the LaSalle), and all proceeds go toward Save the LaSalle. I highly recommend Mass Appeal for your summer entertainment this week. It’s worth the drive to Kirkland Lake in Northeastern Ontario!