Thursday, February 26, 2009

Review: 'Avow' -- Breaking and Making Vows and Gay Marriage in the Church


Kate Middleton, Joy Franz and Timothy Sekk. Photo by Jennifer Ievolo

By Lauren Yarger
A young couple in love decides they’re ready to make a lifetime commitment and asks their favorite priest to witness their vows. The problem? Tom and Brian are gay and their church and priest are opposed to their union.

Straight-laced veterinarian Tom (Jaron Farrnham) and freespirit seeing-eye-dog trainer Brian (Timothy Sekk) define themselves as “salad bar” Catholics, taking the parts they feel will provide nourishment and leaving the rest. They approach Father Raymond (Jeremiah Wiggins) to perform their marriage because they like his liberal sermons (he’s against boxing and capital punishment and for women priests and Thomas Merton). Raymond surprises them however, by aligning himself with the church’s teaching against homosexual marriage and urges them to love each other as brothers, but celibately.

Brian is hurt, especially when Tom thinks the priest might be right and starts to withdraw from their relationship, at least sexually. Brian turns for comfort to his concert pianist sister, Irene (an engaging Kate Middleton), who has agreed to let Tom and Brian raise the baby she is carrying following an affair with a married man. She visits Father Raymond to plead their case in the hopes she can “convert” him, but the result of the meeting instead, is a growing attraction between Irene and Raymond.

Added to this convenient, if not entirely believable soap-opera mix from playwright Bill C. Davis, is Brian and Irene’s mother, Rose (an excellent Joy Franz), devoutly Catholic and inexplicably fixated on her own priest, Father Nash (Christopher Graham). She lights candles and prays every day that her estranged son will cease to be a homosexual.

Irene plays peacemaker here too, and when Rose follows Father Nash’s advice to be open to God’s answer, she suddenly hears it: Brian is all right just the way he is and she agrees to have dinner with her children. Franz’s skilled delivery of the line “So here I am with my gay son and my unmarried, pregnant daughter'” gets one of the biggest laughs of the night in a script that makes good use of humor to balance its emotionally charged theme.

Meanwhile, Raymond, whose growing feelings for Irene have him questioning the vows of chastity he made as a young man when he entered the priesthood, seeks the advice of his priest. And if you hadn’t yet guessed, yes, Father Nash is his confessor.

Amidst the plot, which Davis unfortunately attempts to tie up in a neat package instead of allowing a natural ending to stand, all of the different sides of the debate are nicely given equal time. Raymond, though somewhat abruptly and seemingly uncaring about the effect his words will have on Tom and Brian, accurately relays the church’s teaching on the subject of homosexual marriage and its inability to “force the truth around feelings,” but doesn’t go into scriptural detail backing that stand.

Tom admits that he’s always “heard a small voice saying no,” and thinks he and Brian might be wrong. He joins “Courage,” a support group for people choosing a chaste lifestyle.

Brian, who gave up on the church a long time ago, thinks Tom is just buying into the lie with which he was raised and equates his and Tom’s inability to make vows in the church with Raymond’s inability to break his.

The real crux of relationships here, seems to be lust, rather than love, however. Raymond’s apparent physical attraction (he barely knows Irene) causes him to think about leaving the church. When Tom “refuses” Brian, the relationship falters. Even Irene’s previous relationship with the father of her baby was based on sex, and it’s only at Brian’s offer to be the father that she decides to go through with the pregnancy, not because she feels love for the child or its father.

A visual metaphor for this is the couple’s large, ever-present bed (set design by Stephanie Tucci) raised on a platform upstage center, around which all the action, directed by Jerry Less, takes place, regardless of the setting (it’s there in the rectory, in the restaurant, Irene’s apartment, etc.) Clouds painted on blue background surround the stage and give the appearance that the bed is floating above everything else.

And it does, to the point where it seems to eclipse some good, balanced debate on a timely subject. The show plays at the 45th Street Theatre, 354 west 45th St., New York.

Christians might also want to know:
• Homosexual activity
• God’s name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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