Presented by Origin Theatre Company at the Phil Bosakowski Theatre, 354 W. 45 St., NYC, Jan. 10-23.
Aidan Mathews' "Com-munion," currently being given its American premiere by Origin Theatre Company, might be considered by some to be old-fashioned. But if so, the play is also alive with old-fashioned values: erudite writing, characters that develop, and the tackling of big themes. And yes, it also has the bonus of a palpable tenderness.
The setting is a bedroom in the upper-middle-class McHenry home in a fashionable Dublin suburb. In the bed, the eldest son, Jordan (Ean Sheehy), is dying of a brain tumor. He is affectionately tended by his younger brother, Marcus (J. Kennedy), a brilliant but battered manic-depressive who has already attempted suicide. To complete the play's central trinity, enter the brothers' widowed mother, Martha (Barbara Sims), who has loving devotion for the gentle Jordan but only contempt for the sardonic Marcus. Swirling around this tug-of-war trio are three visitors to the bedroom: Father Anthony (Colin Lane), a missionary priest just returned from Rwanda and now questioning his faith; Marcus' joyous Church of Ireland girlfriend, Felicity (Jessica Dickey); and Arthur (John Seidman), the McHenrys' shipshape Methodist neighbor.
The finale of Act I is a communion mass around Jordan's bed with all the characters present, allowing the playwright to physically show communion as the coming together of disparate souls. With this as the central theme, the play also doesn't balk at examining such boldface topics as suffering, faith, and redemption. While Mathews may display an overreaching for the appropriate epigram, he is especially deft with characterization, everyone present becoming fully formed before our eyes.
Thus, he writes juicy parts for actors. Under M. Burke Walker's careful direction—his single sin is a too-deliberate pacing—the cast flourishes: Sheehy's Jordan hauntingly glows with goodness, Sims' weary Martha emotionally engages, Dickey's Felicity easily supplies the play's life force, Seidman's neighbor is likeably foolish, and Lane's priest is touchingly real. Kennedy, however, needs more charm to make Marcus convincingly plausible.