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Review: Tracking mysteries with Father Brown

April 04, 2013|By Philip Brandes
  • Father Brown (Blake Walker), left, seeks to reform master thief Flambeau (Brandon Parrish) in "The Innocence of Father Brown."
Father Brown (Blake Walker), left, seeks to reform master thief Flambeau… (Ellie Roth )

The Father Brown stories penned in the early 1900s by British critic-novelist-philosopher G.K. Chesterton still rank among the best examples of the detective fiction genre. Little Candle Productions’ original adaptation, “The Innocence of Father Brown,” sets out to translate the spirit of fun and philosophical depth in the exploits of Chesterton’s owlish, crime-solving cleric onto the Fremont Centre Theatre stage.

Co-directed by Betsy Roth and Allison Darby Gorjian, this initial incarnation is pretty much a community theater-level effort, so expectations for performances and production values need to be calibrated accordingly. Nevertheless, the serious intent and potential for further development is apparent.

Fans of Chesterton’s stories will appreciate adapter Patrick Rieger’s dedication and ingenuity in weaving together several disparate stories from the first published Father Brown anthology, linked by a common theme of redemption. Much of the dialogue is verbatim from the source, including some of Father Brown’s (Blake Walker’s) more profound spiritual and moral discourses.

For the sake of tighter narrative through lines, some plot points and characters have been transposed or combined, particularly in the expanded roles of master thief Flambeau (Brandon Parrish) and the implacable police inspector Valentin (Adam Daniel Elliott). This compression can prove double-edged — changing a tainted character to an innocent witness in “The Eye of Apollo” dilutes the story’s moral complexity but opens a path for Flambeau to pursue a romantic interest (Erika M. Frances).

The biggest challenge in this adaptation is keeping the all-knowing title character from coming off as a know-it-all. Father Brown's passing reference to recognizing evil within himself points to a solution, but beyond the words we need to feel that even priests have their devils.

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 “The Innocence of Father Brown,” Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 28. $25. (866) 811-4111 or www.fremontcentretheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours.

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