By Eric J. Grimm
Sara Fellini’s new play In Vestments confidently goes for unholier-than-thou status in its site-specific church setting. The macabre drama explores the hypocrisy and shame of holy living for four priests and a sacristan who live among their demons in a decaying church. The residents of Our Lady of Infinite Sighs are well-drawn characters, even if their struggles fall into frequently charted territory. While the conclusion is disappointing, the majority of the play is absorbing thanks to its skilled cast and sure-handed writing and direction.
Fellini’s priests are all distinct characters with compelling motivations. Disabled Father Nate (Adam Belvo) is deeply sympathetic to his parishioners, but battles addiction and a demon (Peter Oliver) that often obstructs him and keeps him immobile. Father McInerney (Carl Danielsen) is all heart and mostly poised as he faces off against the corrupt Father Falke (Ted Wold) over the direction of the church. Father Yves (Samuel Adams) drives the plot, emerging with striking blue eyes (a testament to the intimacy of the space) and gentle Cajun charm to save the decrepit church. Though Yves is seemingly the most stable of the motley crew, his charismatic demon (Pierre Marais) taunts him with Jacques Brel tunes. Adams slyly plays the young priest’s torture throughout, hiding immeasurable sadness behind a comforting grin. Director Isaac Byrne carefully maneuvers all of the characters in and out of the small space allowing for a manic but controlled atmosphere.
Fellini takes on the role of Maeve, an irreverent church employee who rebels against the unscrupulousness and superstition of the church, all the while serving and mending the broken men who run it. A second act monologue represents Fellini’s best writing; it reveals so much about Maeve without going into specifics and highlights the dangers of being a woman and a caregiver. Her performance, fairly intense up to this point, becomes restrained and unbearably sad. Amidst moments of exhilarating weirdness, Fellini manages to balance the show with her characters’ devastating emotional truths.
With Maeve’s monologue, however, the show peaks. The conclusion is madcap in a way that doesn’t follow from the rest of the play. Where the preceding act-and-a-half is an intriguing blend of mystery and kookiness, the final twenty minutes or so borrow heavily from both Titus Andronicus and The Rocky Horror Picture Show in a way that doesn’t feel organic. I longed for a nihilistic conclusion that felt more a part of Fellini’s disciplined weirdness seen earlier in the play. That said, the cast has fun with the bonkers finale and it’s almost worth it to see them all smiles during the curtain call.
In Vestments is showing at West Park Presbyterian Church (165 W. 86th St.) through May 30th. Tickets are free (suggested $20 donation). For advance reservations, visit http://www.eventbrite.com/e/in-vestments-tickets-16443618305.