KPBS AIRDATE: December 02, 2005
If you didn’t learn your catechism earlier this year, you’re outta luck. While “Late Night Catechism,” which made several hilarious return visits to North Coast Repertory Theatre, was often laugh-yourself-silly, its holiday sequel is a disappointingly dim bulb. Guess you can’t go home again – even on Christmas.
“Sister’s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold” is written by half the duo that created the original, which has become a nationwide cash-cow. This time, Maripat Donovan teamed with Marc Silvia and Jane Morris – a much less felicitous collaboration. At North Coast Rep, the show is performed, at least on some nights, by the same person I’ve already seen twice in the show’s first incarnation –Kathryn Gallagher, who’s competent and comical. But it’s a long way from the cackling Catholic school class of before; this one’s overly repetitive, didactic, amateurish and unfunny. Unless you get a terrific kick out of watching your friends and neighbors stumble up onstage to look ridiculous draped in schmattas for a nativity tableau, there must be somewhere else you could get your fill of novelty crèches and carols.
How about seeing something with a little more heft this season? “The Sum of Us,” by David Stevens, is an often-amusing drama about love – of the sexual, platonic and filial kind. Jeff and his widowed Dad are both lonely and looking for romance. But while Harry is seeking Ms. Companion, his son is searching for Mr. Right. Under Douglas Lay’s assured direction, the humor is high and the action doesn’t dip too often into melodrama.
The cast does an excellent job of drawing us into this airless world of blue collar Aussies. Unfortunately, the playwright insists on distancing us every time we become absorbed, forcing the actors to break the fourth wall and address us directly, sometimes mid-conversation. It’s an annoying structural conceit in an otherwise realistic, kitchen-sink drama, though the actors handle it with aplomb – and the technique is quite effective in the play’s final moments.
Some might find it a tad disconcerting, as I did, that only three of the four performers attempt Australian accents. But the acting trumps all flaws; the two main characters are finely etched and convincingly portrayed. Brennan Taylor is lovable and adorable as the shy, insecure son, and Dale Morris is robust and a little randy as his sympathetic if overly intrusive father. Matt Weeden and Jenni Prisk are vigorous and credible as their tentative love interests. At heart, “The Sum” is a sentimental tale of father-son expectations and interactions, sprinkled with scattered speechifying on acceptance of self and others. The play proves the perfect counterpart to “Adam Baum and the Jew Movie,” the provocatively-titled, excellently acted drama that runs at 6th @ Penn on alternate nights.
So skip the nunsense and grab yourself a mindful, heartful holiday.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.