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Theater Review (NYC): 100 Saints You Should Know

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As I am a recovering Catholic, the title of this play alone could have been enough to keep me away. How glad I am that it did not.

The problem with liking a show is that you run out of good ways to say “terrific” and “excellent actors.” So here I am all a-dither. First of all, what a pleasant surprise to discover that Janel Moloney can act. Sure, she was terrific in West Wing when she worked in the office of the President who we really wanted in the White House. But so often actors who do well on TV or in film don’t know their heads from their tails when it comes to theatre.

Moloney not only knows, she makes it look easy. She portrays Theresa, the mother of a teenage girl whose hormones have nearly dissolved her brain cells. This teenager is a remarkable creation as played by Zoe Kazan. So remarkable that you want to sweep onto the stage and shake her till her tiny teeth rattle.

Faced with this brittle and way too honest child, Theresa seeks some solace from the man whose toilet she cleans – ye olde local parish priest. The priest (Jeremy Shamos) is going through his own crisis, however, and exiting the church door just as Moloney is knocking to get in. It’s a nifty bit of plot weaving that is only one example of playwright Kate Fodor’s skill.

Moloney pursues the priest all the way back home to the stoop of his mother’s house. His mother, played by the thankfully restrained Lois Smith, is at a loss. Why do things have to change? Why is getting old so complicated? Why can’t her son turn his little butt around and thither back to the bosom of the church and leave her old-fashioned bosom the hell alone? Meanwhile at the other end of the teeter-totter, the teenage daughter and a townie are caught red-handed in the act of discovering that life is a series of saddle bags we toss off only to pick up new ones.

Actually the play is really about the daughter, which may be why it lurches a little here and there because we are guided to follow the priest, who is not given the depth and direction bestowed upon the teenager. But that’s not a flaw that stops you from getting tangled up in these people’s lives, and wondering what happens to them long after the play is done.

Don’t know why this isn’t being extended. It should be.

100 Saints You Should Know

By Kate Fodor; directed by Ethan McSweeny; sets by Rachel Hauck; costumes by Mimi O’Donnell; lighting by Jane Cox; sound by Matt Hubbs; production manager, Christopher Boll; production stage manager, Michaella K. McCoy. Presented by Playwrights Horizons, Tim Sanford, artistic director; Leslie Marcus, managing director; William Russo, general manager. At the Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater, 416 West 42nd Street, Clinton; (212) 279-4200. Through Sept. 30. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes.

WITH: Zoe Kazan (Abby), Janel Moloney (Theresa), Will Rogers (Garrett), Jeremy Shamos (Matthew) and Lois Smith (Colleen).

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