Kate Fodor’s darkly comedic 2007 character study “100 Saints You Should Know,” currently receiving a fine regional premiere at the Dayton Theatre Guild, brings faith, faithlessness and forgiveness to the forefront in an engaging and compelling fashion under the delicate direction of Ellen Finch.
Alex Carmichal, who left an indelible impression earlier this season as the titular villain of the Dayton Playhouse’s production of “Dracula,” brings understated potency to his excellently conflicted portrayal of Father Matthew McNally, the play’s centerpiece. Grappling with unmentionable desires that betray his duties, a predictable yet reasonable notion, Matthew leaves his parish without a game plan for the future, causing him to question his beliefs as never before while returning to his childhood home for refuge. The reason behind Matthew’s hurried, vague departure, involving the provocative artwork of George Platt Lynes, is reserved for late Act 1, but Carmichal’s astutely perplexing nature remains thoroughly intriguing, especially as Matthew finds solace in reading “Dark Night of the Soul” and comes to grips with the acknowledgement that his spirituality, his connection to God, is completely broken. Amiable cleaning woman and single mom Theresa (a first-rate, emotionally distressed Katrina Kittle) inquisitively looks to Matthew for answers to her burgeoning thoughts of religion, but Fodor primarily keeps their budding relationship and insightful faith discussions ambiguous, which some may find perturbing. After all, this lonely pair feels very bonded as lost souls in search of intimacy and purpose, elements heartwarmingly fueled by Carmichal and Kittle’s innate chemistry.
Kittle also establishes a wonderfully exasperating rapport with the sassy Corinne Engber as Abby, Theresa’s startlingly rebellious, foul-mouthed 16-year-old daughter who deeply resents her and their meager existence. Theresa and Abby’s bickering showdowns are off-putting (Abby is one of the nastiest characters to come along in years), but Kittle and Engber build to a heartfelt climax nonetheless as Abby particularly grows to understand the cost of being utterly mean-spirited for selfish gain. The cast also includes the very endearing Maximillian Santucci as the gawky, gullible Garrett, a sexually confused delivery boy ridiculed by Abby to devastating proportions, and the marvelously grounded Barbara Jorgensen as Matthew’s stern, caring, Scrabble-adoring Irish mother Coleen, who has difficulty grasping his sudden change of heart and the sheer importance of acceptance.
Marcia Nowik’s efficient set as well as Patrick Hayes’ appropriate costumes and believably bloodied makeup for Santucci are also significant as this impactful tale of inner fulfillment runs its surprisingly heartbreaking course.
“100 Saints You Should Know” continues through March 10 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave., Dayton. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Act One: 60 minutes; Act Two: 45 minutes. Cost: $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and $11 for students. For tickets or more information, call (937) 278-5993 or visit online at www.daytontheatreguild.org. Also, in conjunction with the Dayton Visual Arts Center, the Guild will display the works of local artist C.A. Tiedemann in its lobby during the run of “100 Saints,” which contains mature subject matter.