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‘100 Saints’ is a play you should know

Actors, intimate space make for ‘wonderful bit of theatre’

By PHYLISHA DRAYTON / VN SPECIAL WRITER
On December 6, 2016

The University of Detroit Mercy theatre company’s 100 Saints You Should Know is a truthful drama that follows the journey of a priest undergoing a spiritual crisis and his interaction with a small group of people along the way that concurrently embark on spiritual inquiries of their own.

It’s a wonderful bit of theater.

Performed in the intimate space of the Marlene Boll Theatre, the performance is tailored to accommodate the use of kabuki screens, which provides dual duty throughout the play; allowing characters to conceal true emotions from each other as well as supporting the plays abundance of scenes.

For dieecor Arthur J. Beer, a seasoned participant in the performing arts having acted and directed in more than 150 plays, he acknowledges the specific role that a director has in finding the appropriate production concept to accommodate those elements both specified and not in the script. 

“When I read this play, it set me back on my heels,” said Beer. “I knew it would be a very challenging thing, both for our audience and for our actors, but primarily because it was so honest and did not provide any easy answers.”

The setup of the production calls for the audience to look past the presence of the scene changers on stage, see the screens as walls, and ignore extra props in the background.

Although it is a task on the audience, the execution of the play makes looking past those details easier.

There were no easy answers for Beer when planning the production concept and setup of the show.

The play’s visual elements are the most important facets to its credibility.

Along with the use of the kabuki screens in the intimate spaces, the lighting is setup to keep the main elements of the scenes as illuminated as possible while increasing the shadows on the outskirts of the scenes to hide the scene changers who remain on stage to efficiently facilitate the scene transitions.

The most unique element of the play is the absence of minor parts or leading roles. 

All the characters embark on their own personal journey, one no more important than the other. 

The richness of the interactions between the characters is aided by their distinctive personalities. 

For example, the play begins with Theresa, (played by Linda Rabin Hammel) a quirky, outgoing cleaning woman and single mother who finds herself crossing paths with the young Catholic priest Matthew (played by Greg Grobis) who emanates the seriousness and clandestineness expectant of his positon. 

Despite the different occupations and personalities, their shared connection of feelings lost in translation is apparent as they engage in an awkward encounter that shows a desire to connect, but an inability on how to. 

Just as there were no easy answers for Beer when planning the production concept and setup of the show, there is also no easy answers for the portrayal of the characters.

The characters find companionship yet experience loneliness, they express hope and positivity yet doubt and negativity, and they seek yet they hide. 

The audience is confronted with disturbing reoccurrences of characters voicing, “I don’t know” just when you want and expect them to find answers to their problems.

Audiences may find their heart aches at the ambiguity and desire for the characters to find their “happy ending,” thus leaving the audience to ask why it didn’t happen for them.

Each actor is notable in the play, with a mixture of both professional and rookie student actors, but the standouts included Pricia Hicok as Colleen, Matthew’s mother, and Bridget Smith as Abby, Theresa’s daughter. 

The authentic emotion exhibited by both women attracted the attention of the audience, and kept them locked on the characters every move, from the moments of intense emotional outburst to the asides of comic relief.

Bridget Smith is a sophomore five-year MBA and theatre major at Detroit Mercy and has been involved in theatre since she was 12 years old. 

The thing that attracts her to dynamic roles, such as Abby, is the ability to learn from the characters that you portray.

“I like to think that I’m not like Abby, she is very angry and very dark and she’s always questioning,” said Smith. “That’s something I lack and I like to be able to explore that character in itself, but also what my relation and connection is to that character.”

Just as Smith was able to find exploration personally for herself and her character, the play opens the door for the audience to find the same type of exploration in their own lives. 

When talking to the cast after the show, the reoccurring phrase in the play “surge of the heart, the cry of recognition and love,” is what they feel most summarizes the multiple themes within the play. 

All the characters in the play feel lost and many times misunderstood, but the unifying attribute of them all is their willingness to question, seek answers and put themselves out there for the hope of love and contentedness for themselves and in relation to others. 

Feelings of being lost, unheard, unwanted, and fear is something reminiscent of the human experience, as reflected by something as recent as the 2016 Presidential election. 

Therefore, this play is perfect for anyone and everyone, to find entertainment and relatability along with hope, encouragement and some humor in difficult times. 

It engages by forcing the viewer to deal with ambiguous ends; to seek, question and reflect in a deeper sense.

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