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100 Saints You Should Know, Elephant Theatre Company, Los Angeles

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100 Saints You Should Know, written by Kate Fodor, directed by Lindsay Allbaugh, and given its West Coast premiere at the Elephant Theatre Company, presents a story that asks questions but doesn't, alas, provide answers. To great effect it frames the production's (and our) spiritual question: what makes sense for us, here, now? As a work of art that fulfills us, though, it's not a little frustrating.

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Matthew (Brendan Farrell), a priest in crisis, doesn't tell his mother, Colleen (Pamela Roylance) or Theresa (Cheryl Huggins), the housekeeper at his former rectory, that he was temporarily relieved of his duties because he was caught with homoerotic photographs snapped by George Platt Lynes. The production presents an interesting case of a shepherd who must tend to himself before he can attend to the needs of his flock. Suggesting there are no fixed answers, it ends abruptly, so abruptly that it not only flummoxes the audience, but one of the cast members who seems to have risen from the dead.

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The sticking point with this otherwise fantastically enacted production is our unfulfillment at the end. Without doubt Fodor and Albaugh mean for our unease to mirror that of the characters, each of whom comes to Matthew beset with varying degrees of, whether they know it or not, spiritual longing. He's the spiritual tuning fork for this symphony of riotous souls. His flock each require some manner of tuning. Because we identify so well with him (Farrell serves up a masterful performance) and the plights of his flock (ditto for the rest of the cast), we wonder what's to become of them. But this production never finds its home key.

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Certain things stand out. Story-wise, if not anecdotally, it's a relief to see the Church being proactive, for a change, in matters of sexual abuse. The only thing to date that implicates Matthew are those photographs; his only material crime seems to be the destruction of library property though, as Jimmy Carter once famously proclaimed, he has sinned in his thoughts. The production describes with deftness the various spiritual crises as well as the way that it presents subtle, barely perceptible processes of spiritual movement. Set as one big family, with various iterations of father-figures, it's well structured. At all levels the behavior stems from the lack of or tangled relationship with a father figure: Matthew and God, Abby (Kate Huffmann), daughter of single mom Theresa, Garrett (Marco Naggar) who are absent when tragedy befalls him.

Gentle and soft-spoken, conveying formidable, if crumbling, self control (he has yet to act on his impulses), Farrell recites lines from St. John of the Cross's "Dark Night of the Soul" that sound more like Cavafy love poetry. The characters portrayed so well by Huggins, Huffman, Roylance, and Naggar need to believe but, in his present state, he can't offer much by way of consolation. Huffman's Abby, especially. A tornado whose still center belies an empty soul, is captivating and funny as hell. She says and does things for effect but really, you sense she's looking for something to grasp, to hold on to. The more agitated, the more needy they become, the more he pulls back, a point made clear in a Service for the Dead that he ministers.

Because it raises but doesn't answer significant plot-driven questions, the production feels episodic, like a work in progress. Of course the quest for spiritual fulfillment is endless but, without intermediate, even provisional answers, its overall impression is imperfect.

Performances are 8pm, Friday and Saturday, 7pm, Sunday. The show runs until June 26. Tickets are $20. The Theatre is located at 6322 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood. For more information call (877) 369-9112 or visit www.elephanttheatrercompany.com.

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