Lowell Sun Review of "Beyond Belief"

Wednesday, January 08, 2003 - 9:31:10 AM MST



'Beyond Belief': Faith can be fun


Sun Staff


Theater review: Beyond Belief, or Catholics Are People, Too, Lyric Stage Company, Boston, Sunday. Through Feb. 1.


BOSTON Lowell-born and bred playwright Jack Neary has made a name for himself in the region, and across the country, for writing clever comedies that have fun with Catholicism, but never in a mean-spirited way.


Neary's latest endeavor, a compilation of six witty playlets lumped under the umbrella title Beyond Belief, or Catholics Are People, Too, is now in its world premiere, which he has also directed, at the Lyric Stage, a lovely little theater in the YMCA building on Clarendon Street.


Originally titled Sex and Catholics, the plays feature a half dozen comical characters confronting sex in its many, often unfathomable, forms.


The best segments are the four playlets featuring three comical Catholic ladies in their twilight years. They sit on Alma's porch across from the church, which in the opening description is easily imagined as Neary's South Lowell home in Sacred Heart parish.


Between watching the goings-on across the street in the parking lot, they read their newspaper (The Sun, in fact), while candidly and comically discussing Monica Lewinsky, alternative lifestyles, mnage trois and the painful Big Issue now facing the Catholic church.


Gert is worldly wise and played to comic perfection by Bobbie Steinbach although she looks a tad young in that auburn wig.


In "Oral Report" Gert expertly explains to addled, naive Alma, poignantly portrayed by Ellen Colton, what happened between Clinton and Lewinsky. She is aided by Marjorie, less obtrusive but no less knowledgeable and played sympathetically by Cheryl McMahon.


Their explanations and Alma's befuddlement continue in "Alternative Lifestyle," a chipper look at what Alma calls "homeless sexuals."


"Three-peat" deals with what Billy Gallagher, his girlfriend from the IRS and that lady who drives the Jeep just might be up to in the house bequeathed to him by his deceased mother.


"Secrets," which deals with priestly celibacy and the issues facing the church today, steps back from the comedy and offers a one-two dramatic punch as Alma shares her family's secrets with her friends in a stirring, eloquent, thought-provoking climax.


The other skits, "Catholic Man" and "Santa's Holiday Confession," are funny, with good comic turns from newcomers Lindsay Joy and Christopher Loftus and Lyric regular Robert Saoud as a sexy Santa. But the playlets are shallow compared to the scintillating chatter the little ladies invoke.


They play it for laughs and got plenty from Sunday's appreciative full house. But in the end, it is the poignant "why and how did it happen?" question that reverberates through Beyond Belief, proving once again Neary's ability to elicit serious reflection through the laughter and tears.


Tickets are $22-$38 and are available by calling 617-437-7172.