New York City Theater
Lion Theatre, Manhattan
Pedophilia in the Church? Deviants in the confessional booth? Damaged altar boys? The subject is no longer likely to intrigue a jaundiced audience, having been dealt with at length on stage, in the press, and elsewhere.
How then is a playwright to pep up the subject, make it fresh, exciting, dramatic?
Playwright Edmund De Santis takes on the challenge in “Ascension” and goes at it in his own style. He offers the now-familiar theme, but adds a good deal more to the mix. In fact, De Santis creates a melodrama—or mish-mash, if you will—with a whole laundry list of shockers—namely (and in alphabetical order) blackmail, crib death, infant sexual abuse, mental retardation, mental illness, murder by poison, multiple personalities, nudity (plenty of that), promiscuity, rough sex, schizophrenia, violence.
Three characters—Agnes the mother, Lorenzo her son, and Father Calvin Porter go at each other violently, flinging accusations, lies, and fantasies about in wild profusion. Agnes accuses Father Calvin of seducing her son and demands money in return for silence. One never discovers the truth in the welter of accusations. But ultimately the material, so excessive, defeats itself, leaving the viewer dizzy, confused, untouched and disenchanted.
What does save “Ascension” are the performances and the vigorous direction of Marc Geller. Lucy McMichael as Agnes is properly scary, adding a truly spooky quality to the proceedings, and Stephen Hope gives dimension to the role of the troubled, distraught priest. But it is Brandon Ruckdashel as the young Lorenzo who brings genuine excitement to the show. (Not for nothing is the word “dash” contained within his name!) From the moment this beautiful young actor appears on stage, with a Mona Lisa smile and streaked blond hair crossing his face, the play begins to sizzle.
In all, “Ascension” is a piece which could well be improved by more subtlety, less extraneous material, and letting the actors do their job.
-- Irene Backalenick
October 10, 2006