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Stage Review : When Light Of Satire Shines On 'Blind Faith'

November 23, 1985|DAN SULLIVAN

"Blind Faith" at Theatre West comes so close to being a spoof of "Agnes of God" that perhaps playwright Amand Fey should relax and go all the way with it.

Instead of Agnes, we have Francis (Mark Masi), a young postulant tortured by desires of the flesh. One night he sneaks out of the monastery for an encounter with the local harlot, Beatrice (Sondra Blake), who plies him with grapes.

Staring at them through the window is a lovely blind girl, Rachel (Catherine MacNeal). Not knowing she's blind, Francis panics, runs outside and hits her over the head with a rock.

Lo! She can see! Within 10 minutes, the villagers have set up an "I Was There at the Miracle" T-shirt concession. Within 20 minutes, Rome has sent over an official delegation with orders to hype this thing for all it's worth, in order to "goose up a little devotion."

The monk in charge of the monastery (Ric Mancini) is happy to cooperate, once the Vatican delegation promises him his own cathedral. But Francis and his spiritual adviser, Father Ramon (Hal England), are made of stronger spiritual stuff. Will they go along with the hype? (The blind girl is no problem; she doesn't remember anything about a rock.)

Presumably Fey means this as a serious play. But his dialogue is so clunky and his view of the church so naive that "Blind Faith" comes off like a burlesque even when it's trying to be worldly wise.

Father Ramon's solemn description of Francis' night of sin would make even Sister Mary Ignatius giggle (" . . . he pulled his cassock over his sinful parts and chased after the girl . . . ").

As for the notion of the church hyping miracles in order to win some kind of religious ratings war, it's delicious--as satire. In the real world, however, bishops groan when a "miracle" turns up in their diocese, to be followed by weeping women in veils and photographers from the National Enquirer.

If Rome did go into the miracle biz, however, it would work with a more experienced crew than this. For example, the investigating cardinal (David White) is so horrified to hear that the sainted Francis has touched a woman that he throws him out of the monastery as "an agent of the devil." You'd think he was hearing his first confession.

It's the kind of play that assumes that people in religious life are either super-saintly or total sellouts, like the Cardinal's roguish major-domo. It can be said that Gino Conforti has great fun with this role, as does Michael Barker, in a more deadpan way, as the Cardinal's other factotum.

Clyde Ventura's cast is generally good. England projects a quiet integrity as Father Ramon, Masi has a certain charisma as young Francis and Kevin McMahon is amusing as a young postulant whose big ambition is to win the next monastery Ping-Pong tournament. Him, you believe.

A final touch of subliminal humor is provided by A. Clark Duncan's shadowy set, which suggests that the whole thing is happening either in Elsinore or Count Dracula's castle. Charles Bernstein's synthesizer score leans toward the latter.

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