Easy-going Catholic priest Father Tim Farley is popular with parishioners because of his entertaining, but unchallenging, sermons.
When he encounters firebrand deacon Mark Dolson, who wants to shake the congregation out of its complacency, both men are forced to examine their own moral choices and approach to duty.
Mass Appeal is a two-actor play by American playwright Bill C. Davis that pits idealism against convention.
The Red Deer Players dramedy that opens on Friday, Feb. 5, at the Scott Block theatre in Red Deer, takes place within the Roman Catholic Church. But the play isn’t about religion, said director Lori Lane.
She feels the story could just as easily have been set in a hospital, law office or classroom — any place where young people with new ideas clash with older mentors with entrenched attitudes.
Like many a medical intern, articling lawyer, or student teacher, priest-in-training Dolson, wants to change the world into a more tolerant and enlightened place, said Lane. He challenges Farley about his people-pleasing, homily-filled sermons in order to get the older priest to take a moral stand.
Although the older priest is initially outraged by Dolson’s brash support for controversial issues, like the ordination of women into priesthood, he gradually warms to the younger man. For Dolson’s own good, Farley tries to get him to temper his zeal so he doesn’t make enemies instead of allies.
“Each character has something to offer the other,” said Lane, who enjoys the script of Mass Appeal, which combines dramatic moments with comic ones. “It’s a richly written play of substance and a good dose of humour.”
The 1980 stage play was so popular with audiences it was turned into a 1984 movie, starring Jack Lemmon as Father Farley.
Members of the Red Deer production sought advise and insight from Catholic leaders at Sacred Heart Church. Lane also cast two veteran community actors: Paul Boultbee as Father Farley and Jason Steele as Dolson.
“Both of them are just so experienced, (the rehearsal process) was a joy,” said Lane, who’s working for the first time with Steele, and is reuniting with Boultbee who last appeared with her about 20 years ago in a production of Camelot.
Lane, who last helmed the large-cast production of 12 Angry Men for the Red Deer Players, was looking for a more intimate play this time around. “I wanted a small cast so we could really unearth who these characters are, and bring real characters to life…”
She hopes audience members will enjoy the push-pull conversations between Farley and Dolson. “Neither of them is 100 per cent right, and neither is 100 per cent wrong… They have to learn to look at things from somebody else’s perspective.
“For me, this play is all about their relationship, and the understanding that we can all learn from one another.”
Mass Appeal runs Feb. 5,6, 11-14, and 18-20 at the Scott Block. All shows are at 8 p.m., except a 2 p.m. matinee on Feb. 14. Tickets are $25 on weekends and $17.50 during weekdays from Sunworks on Ross St., or www.reddeerplayers.com.