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Bill C. Davis's "Avow" is unlikely to enjoy mass appeal.


Brian and Tom, a homosexual couple of self-described "salad-bar Catholics," who pick what morsels of the faith suit them, want to be married by Father Raymond, a young, liberal priest they admire; he, of course, following the dictates of the church, refuses. Brian's sister, Irene, a concert pianist carrying the child of a married man, has promised it to the pair for adoption. Accordingly, she goes to work on persuading Father Raymond to perform the ceremony; in the process, she and the priest fall in love. Watching it all is Rose, the siblings' droll mother, herself in a somewhat ambiguous relationship with her beloved confessor, Father Nash, who is also Father Raymond's confessor. A neat little construct by Bill C. Davis (best known for Mass Appeal) and entitled, again punningly, Avow.

Father Raymond's refusal throws doubt into the less rabid Tom's mind. (Rabid seems more apt than, say, sanguine, because Brian is a vet and Tom a seeing-eye-dog trainer who later gets bitten by a rabid dog.) The happy relationship begins to fall apart, as does the play. Davis's problem is that he wants to accost a serious subject -- or two or three -- via gag-driven comedy, which sort of worked in Mass Appeal but doesn't here. Avow, to put it mildly, is not a wow.

David Jenkins's set is so stark -- mostly an omnipresent double bed and a few chairs -- as to look less spartan than a rather too obvious case of cutting corners. Jack Hofsiss has directed swiftly and smoothly enough to elide some of the logical hiatuses, but he has cast unevenly. Tom and Brian are adequately handled by Scott Ferrara and Christopher Sieber, but Alan Campbell -- blond, delicate, his hair artfully waved -- comes across gayer than the couple. And Sarah Knowlton's Irene would more likely drive men into the priesthood than out of it. Jane Powell, in her somewhat movie-musicalish acting style, is nevertheless charming and funny as Rose, and Reathel Bean and Kathleen Doyle satisfy in lesser roles.

The theological debates are rather thin and shed no new light, the characters thinner yet, as we do not see them at their work. Irene's pianism is reduced to taped piano music between scenes; Tom's and Brian's trades are conveyed by ten seconds of offstage barking; Father Raymond is not shown preaching; Rose is scarcely more than a jokey device. There are amusing gags, though I suspect that some who laughed or gasped loudest were Davis's co-religionists. Is there enough here for those of different faiths, including the belief in a theater of ideas rather than of titillation?


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