100 Saints You Should KnowBy Manning Harris

“One can be called to God by beauty,” says Father Matthew McNally in Kate Fodor’s “100 Saints You Should Know,” now playing at Actor’s Express through April 17 in its Southeastern premiere.  But if the beauty involves the private contemplation of the late photographer George Platt Lynes’ photographs of beautiful (grown) young men, there will be trouble for Matthew (Doyle Reynolds), who has been ordered home to his mother Colleen (Sheila Allen) for three months of introspection and prayer.  We do, after all, live in a society of institutionalized homophobia.

So “Saints” is in large part about parents and children, literal and metaphoric.  Matthew’s mother seems quite clueless and middling until one realizes, as they play an extended game of Scrabble, that she is in denial, and we are dealing here with what Tennessee Williams would call something unspoken.

The same burden of unspoken thoughts afflicts Theresa (Carolyn Cook), the cleaning woman at Matthew’s rectory and her surly, angst-ridden 16-year-old daughter Abby (Rachel DeJulio), except that their initial conversation is more fiery and accusatory, especially on Abby’s part.  But it becomes apparent that everyone is really on something of a spiritual quest:  Theresa tells Matthew that “I was looking for something enormous and expansive, and somehow I ended up with a little scrap of a life.”

There’s a quote from St. Therese of Lisieux that recurs in the play:  “Prayer is a surge of the heart, a cry of recognition and love.”  Matthew’s prayer seems to be leading him away from the church, but toward deeper and more meaningful connections with his fellow human beings; and he is a natural, empathetic teacher.  There’s a quote from Oscar Wilde, whose metaphysical interests were far deeper than most realize, that seems very relevant here:  “Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.”

There’s another character in the play, a 16-year-old boy (a neighbor of Colleen’s) named Garrett (Barrett Doyle), who’s also on a quest; the playwright doesn’t offer easy or pat answers to anything, but she hints that the search for unconditional love is universal, and that often we can’t see the forest for the trees.  Your heart goes out to Garrett; but how all these characters meet and interact is a discovery you must make for yourself.

The best news:  This play is superbly acted.  Doyle Reynolds and Carolyn Cook are two of Atlanta’s finest actors; they both have subtlety and power; they’re at the peak of their form. Rachel DeJulio and Barrett Doyle are real discoveries; it’s exciting to contemplate their futures.  Sheila Allen at first seems rather vague and unfocused—until you realize that’s exactly who Colleen is.  Susan Reid directs; and it’s a lovely, masterful job.  The play is also dramatically compelling.

Artistic Director Freddie Ashley says in his excellent program notes that we’re all longing for something.  How about you?  Are you following your bliss?  The beauty and power of fine theatre like “100 Saints” is that it helps us find our way.

For more, visit www.actors-express.com. To contact Manning Harris, email him at fmanningh@gmail.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.