Wine and worldliness add sparkle to Mass Appeal
The Edmonton Journal
Friday, March 17, 1989
Page: D10
Section: Entertainment
Byline: LIZ NICHOLLS Journal Staff Writer

Mass Appeal

Mayfair Dinner Theatre through April 30

He's not called "the most tactful priest in the diocese" for nothing.

Father Tim has arrived at a comfy arrangement with his flock. He doesn't make them feel guilty for being bourgeois (and even delivers the
bingo announcements with a wry, even urbane, humor). In return they agree to love him.

A certain amount of sparkling burgundy changes hands in the terms of this settlement, and it is secreted cunningly behind the portrait of
Jesus (also in the window box and in the "rehearsal pulpit"). As Father Tim points out, it was the man Himself who took the trouble to
make this beverage out of water, and that should count for something.

Into this unthreatening complicity of the Church and the creature comforts, the arrival of a wary, alert, fiercely serious and arrogant
young seminarian for lessons in knocking 'em dead from the pulpit is bound to go down like a cocktail of the Molotov persuasion.

How this conflict in styles, years, and philosophies becomes a learning experience (to borrow a vulgarism from pop psych) on both sides is
the gist of the sentimental Bill C. Davis two-hander with which the new Mayfair Dinner Theatre opens its doors.

And in the hands of the venerable octogenarian Gale Gordon and intense young local actor Kevin Hare, a corn-fed comedy of mild but
durable attractions is surprisingly palatable.

The house itself is a long and dauntingly skinny box, three tables wide, on the lower level of the newly cheerfully refurbished Mayfair
Hotel. It's not a room, one would think, of infinite theatrical possibilities. But at 150 seats it's undeniably intimate. And director Sheila
Dodd has devised a way to capitalize on shape and smallness in a production that fits the venue -- Father Tim's wood-panelled study
(courtesy of Brian McNeil), floor-level at one end and the back tables elevated a step at the other.

On the surface, the gravel-voiced Gale Gordon, he of the patented Hollywood eye-roll and roar, will not be everyone's idea of a cleric. But
his stage charm, his fierce deadpan, his droll exasperation stand him in good stead here. He captures to a T Father Tim's explicit
contention that the priesthood is a kind of showbiz sub-specialty (the collection plate is a version of the Neilsen ratings, he says -- and
he's not joking).

Gordon is very good at conveying the worldly sense of the priesthood as a job with its own techniques -- and that accounts for much of
the humor of the piece. His advice to Mark on how to console the grief- stricken by saying something inane and making them realize
they're inconsolable is a masterpiece of grave wit. His soothing (and double- edged) phone conversations with irate parishioners are
unfailingly funny. His public-speaking tips are a hoot.

He was less good -- at the preview I was kindly allowed to attend -- at managing Father Tim's mounting crisis of confidence under the
barrage of Mark's bristling hostility to his complacency, and the challenge of subverting the Church poohbahs for the sake of the young
man's career. And the finale, during which Father Tim re-evaluates his career, was rather a fizzle -- tension unravels and the whole thing
peters out. But then, as soon as Mass Appeal turns serious, it gets awfully damp anyhow.

Kevin Hare turns in an intelligent, intelligible, convincing performance as the unpolitic would-be cleric with a past -- sensitive, edgy,
touchy, self-regarding.

It's a tricky assignment to capture without impaling the sense that the young man's hostility is tinged with his frustration at not being
able to communicate to the average guy -- a gift which Father Tim has in spades.

"Jesus," thunders the would-be priest working himself up into a froth of righteous wrath, "is not impressed with your mink hats and your
cashmere coats and your blue hair." Father Tim, who subscribes to the view that "the pulpit is not the place to ventilate," insists his pupil
replace your with our.

So while Mass Appeal isn't exactly a proclamation of radical intent for the new theatre, it is, under Dodd's direction, an entertaining
enough piece for mass consumption, not quite successfully shaped, but not without its drollery. Should go down a treat in the collection