By John McGreevey
Directed Mac Nelson
The Shepherd's Voice of Lamb's Theatre
130 West 44th Street (997-1780)
Equity showcase (closes October 24th)
Review by James A. Lopata
The Lamb's Theatre's Shepherd's Voice theatre opened its new season with a delightful production of John McGreevy's A Man Called Peter. The play tells of Peter Marshall, in the mid-1940s, just prior to his nomination for the position of chaplain of the US Senate. The story pits the vibrant new pastor of the New York Avenue Church against the forces of evil: a self-righteous trustee for the parish who disapproves of every move he makes, a soap-box conservative senator who condemns mercy to juvenile delinquents, and a self-centered woman who puts her career ahead of her marriage (heaven forbid).
Good and evil, clearly delineated, foreshadow the redemptive happy ending. Poetic justice prevails in this feel-good atmosphere: the nephew finally lambastes his aunt for her hypocrisy, the senator finally admits his hard-heartedness and asks forgiveness, and the wife returns to her husband. It is a play where, when the pressure mounts, the hero overdoses on soda water. Even It's a Wonderful Life was never as wholesome as this. It is all the more amazing that this is a true story. Mac Nelson solidly directed this production, playing the preachy moments with a healthy dose of modern doubt. When the wife of the pastor questions God's ability to heal her of tuberculosis, he prays over her with fervor. It would be easy to play this in earnest, but Michele Stevens initially resisted the zeal, to great effect. Unfortunately there were times when the proselytizing just couldn't be overcome by style. The minister implores another woman to leave her job and submit to her husband. This may be as offensive to some contemporary audience members as the gay Jesus in McNally's Corpus Christi.
With a completely genuine approach, Mr. Nelson and the cast made this play work for today's audience as well as it probably can. And he assembled a marvelous creative team to bring it to life. Robert DeClaire's naturalistic 1940s setting carried the audience back to a time when fidelity was a given in the capital. Lights and sound, a joint effort by Justin Hullinger and Raheem Billips, enhanced the realistic atmosphere. The costumes, along with the set, were so perfectly of their time, the audience would almost believe they were there.
The playwright provides plenty of opportunities for the actors to shine. And each developed his or her character fully. The talented Jerry Rago put in a heart-felt, stand-out performance as the energetic Reverend Peter Marshall. Also noteworthy were Elinor Jones as the impenetrable Judith Bickle, Stacy Beam as the Leave-it-to-Beaver Allan Talbot, and an intense Scott Thomas Hinson as Joe Keating. But the real star was the splendid, well-knit ensemble.
This was an auspicious start for the beginning of Mr. Nelson's
artistic director of the Shepherd's Voice.
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Copyright 1998 James A. Lopata