note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Carl A. Rossi
Gert … Bobbie Steinbach
Alma … Ellen Colton
Marjorie … Cheryl McMahon
Francie / Natalie … Lindsay Joy
Paul / Priest … Christopher Loftus
Santa Claus … Robert Saoud
Beware of timid satirists: they tend to go soft in the end, take back all they’ve said and rap your knuckles for laughing, too. Such is the case with Jack Neary’s BEYOND BELIEF, OR CATHOLICS ARE PEOPLE, TOO!, seven sketches now receiving their world premiere at the Lyric Stage. In four of the sketches, Gert, Alma and Marjorie, three Golden Girls, sit on Alma’s porch and discuss current events, their opinions being filtered through their (limited) Catholic sensibilities. The first three topics --- the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, homosexuality and threesomes --- are written and played for easy laughs with Gert as straightwoman and Alma as stooge while prudish Marjorie pooh-poohs on the side; their final sketch, however, turns to domestic tragedy --- the topic being pedophilic priests --- as Alma reveals the truth behind her son’s suicide long ago. Something smug and hypocritical is happening here: after being allowed to snigger in the locker room, we must solemnly file out believing that the Catholic Church shall (no, MUST!) go on --- and the smut-loving Gert would be first in line for Communion.
You don’t have to have been raised Catholic to understand the humor of BEYOND BELIEF, but it may help being a still-practicing Catholic to enjoy it --- at least that is what I gleaned from an audience made up primarily of men and women in the same age bracket as Gert, Alma and Marjorie (my heart went out to those who slowly, painfully climbed the steep stairs to their seats). Though I sat through BEYOND BELIEF like cold mutton, this audience rang out with the laughter of recognition and --- as Norman Lear has taught them --- they properly hushed when social conscience kicked in. How would these seniors react if Mr. Neary were a true black humorist? Would they hold their sides over Gert miming oral sex with a banana or poking fun at Jews and African-Americans? Would they roll in the aisles at the thought of priests having sex with children? (If John Kuntz or Ryan Landry were at the wheel, they just might --- and then deny it afterwards. Ah, Catholics!). Mr. Neary, however, has chosen to skate on thick ice (the production’s poster --- a grinning white-haired woman wearing stained-glass sunglasses --- assures us that we are in for an evening of Safe). You’ll go, you’ll chuckle, you’ll attend Mass feeling spotless as the Lamb.
Last spring Mr. Neary and three of his actors --- Bobbie Steinbach, Cheryl MacMahon and Robert Saoud --- convulsed playgoers with the Lyric’s excellent production of LEND ME A TENOR, myself included, and it was good to see them together again even though Mr. Saoud is now wasted playing an adulterous Santa Claus seeking absolution. I had only known Ellen Colton as the ditzy Mrs. Schubert in the long-running SHEAR MADNESS and was delighted with her dramatic as well as comedic gifts, especially when called upon to transform her Alma from a dum-dum into a woman of homespun sorrow right out of William Inge. When paired with the others, the Mss. Colton, Steinbach and MacMahon make a merry coven; should Mr. Neary want to prolong their lives, Gert, Alma and Marjorie would be ideal as ten-minute characters slotted into a morning radio program (“Today, the Girls look at [fill in topic]”).
Christopher Loftus, who makes a welcome Lyric debut in his sketch as “Catholic Man”, has a brisk, sitcom way about him --- I look forward to when his artistic heart starts to beat --- and if Edward Albee’s Martha ever had a flesh-and-blood daughter instead of that fictitious son, she would be embodied by the Lyric’s other newcomer, Lindsay Joy, who swells the ranks of brash, charmless young actresses popping up on Boston stages at an alarming rate. This is the third time I’ve witnessed Ms. Joy billy club her way through a production in the last four months; unfortunately, she’s getting very good at it. No doubt our artistic paths will cross again, but I predict Ms. Joy will grow used to my comments long before I grow used to her performances.