Veteran actor goes all out for Mass Appeal
The Calgary Herald
Monday, June 12, 1989
Byline: Martin Morrow
MASS APPEAL, by Bill C. Davis; a production starring Gale Gordon and directed by Sheila Dodd. At the Stage West Theatre Restaurant
through July 2.
At an age (83) when he might well be expected to coast on his reputation, Gale Gordon pulls out all the stops in Stage West's Mass
It's gratifying to see that the actor who played Lucille Ball's grumpy straight man on a decade's worth of TV sitcom episodes has lost none
of his comic skill. His sterling sense of rhythm and timing remains untarnished, and has ample opportunity to shine in Bill C. Davis's
What is surprising, though, is that he's chosen to take on a challenging role requiring much more than technique - one that, when the
funny lines are finished, asks us to empathize, to feel pity and even affection.
And he succeeds, despite the melodramatic weaknesses of the script and despite the fact, or perhaps because, he is too old for the
As Father Tim Farley, a complacent Roman Catholic priest who long ago traded his youthful religious zeal for comfort and popularity, he
is called upon to reach a crisis over his values. The fact that Gordon's Father Tim is senescent, not merely over-the-hill, gives that crisis
an especially pathetic touch.
Besides, Gordon is not afraid to subordinate his well- worn stage and screen persona to be true to the part. He uses the odd standby
inflection or expression, but there is little in the performance to remind us of the actor beneath the character.
All this should throw regular Stage West patrons off. And so should the play which, regardless of its flaws, is the most intelligent piece
of drama to grace the local dinner- theatre scene in a long time.
In his popular Broadway play, U.S. author Davis gives us the familiar clash of youth with experience, cast as a confrontation between
the placid Father Tim and the fiery young seminarian, Mark Dolson (Kevin Hare), whom Father Tim has taken on as his deacon.
Early on, the play seems little more than an American take on that charming British TV series, Bless Me, Father, with a pragmatic old
priest teaching his green underling some of the tricks of the vocation.
But Father Tim, who has taken on the mercurial Dolson because he is reminded of his own lost fervor, is soon forced to examine his
style of preaching. In a desperate need to be liked, he has sold out to his wealthy parish, becoming little more than their pampered pet
who receives gift bottles of burgundy in return for entertaining them with what Mark contemptuously calls "song- and-dance sermons."
The comedy gives way to soul-baring as Father Tim feels roused to defend the once-promiscuous Mark against the suspicions of the
homophobic prelate who runs the seminary.
But when Davis comes to the play's sombre denouement, his writing is less assured than in the earlier, humorous scenes. Father Tim's
final, heartfelt sermon to his congregation is anti- climactic and unsatisfying. In this and other dramatic passages, the playwright seems
to be reaching for an eloquence that eludes his ability.
Hare, a young Edmonton actor whose prior experience includes a stint here with Mount Royal College's Summer Stage Players last year,
acquits himself well. There's little sense of the smoldering anger that fuels his character's passionate, misguided sermons, but for the
most part he holds his own against Gordon in this two-hour two-hander.
The direction, by Sheila Dodd, is capable. Brian MacNeil's set design for Father Tim's office seems to lack a sumptuousness in keeping
with the Mercedes-driving priest's ostentatiously rich lifestyle. But on the whole, the production, originally mounted at Edmonton's
120-seat Mayfair Dinner Theatre, has adapted smoothly to Stage West Calgary's much larger space.