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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Culture Clash

Theater Reviews

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InTandem Theatre opens the penultimate play of its season with Bill C. Davis’ early ’80s drama Mass Appeal. The story focuses on an idealistic young seminarian who finds himself under the tutelage of an older, established priest. The two face the usual sorts of intergenerational problems as one tries everything in his power to help the other become a fully ordained priest.

In the role of Father Tim Farley, longtime Milwaukee actor Michael Duncan adds quite a bit of nuance into a character that could’ve read as a stereotype of an Irish Catholic priest. The character’s weakness comes across with a subtle strength.

Even when charismatically performing a sermon, there’s the overall feeling of a strange kind of need bleeding out of the character. In the role of Mark Dolson, Michael Perez adds a feisty iconoclasm to the young seminarian’s youthful idealism.

He exhibits a self-confidence that would have come across as arrogance were it not for Perez’s delicate handling of the character’s less reverent side. Early into opening night, Duncan and Perez seemed to be connecting with the text more than they were connecting with each other. On a gut level, this makes sense: Two people from opposing sides of a culture clash meeting for the first time in a situation like this would tend to be more in sync with their own feelings and less willing to actually listen to the person on the other side. The problem is that the lack of connection between Duncan and Perez never feels intentional enough to seem like anything other than the type of stiffness that should fade away later on in the run of the play.

Aside from this minor faltering at the beginning of opening night, Duncan and Perez performed dynamically with a script that felt substantially flat in places—all in all, quite an accomplishment. The script isn’t overwhelmingly bad. There’s a solid structure to it, and one event flows comprehensibly into the next.

The problem is that the language these two men speak isn’t nearly strong enough or powerful enough to accurately capture the dramatic struggle between new ideas and old establishments. Duncan and Perez strengthen relatively weak dialogue with just enough passion to give it meaning without making it seem melodramatic. It’s a shrewd performance of a less-than-inspired script. In Tandem’s production of Mass Appeal runs through April 13 at the Tenth Street Theatre.
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