Playwright and director Joe Pintauro spins a tangled but probing web of faith, sexuality, and religion in Cathedral. Like John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, it takes its cue from the sexual molestation scandals that have roiled the Catholic Church. But unlike Doubt’s clash of wills, Cathedral details a more intensely intimate profile of a priest ensnared between his nature and the strictures of the church.
Father Jacob has determined to leave the cloth. He no longer sees his vocation as relevant and, more painfully, has lost belief in God. But these aren’t his only problems. Upstairs in the rectory, a reporter is questioning the cardinal about a young street hustler’s assertion that he had relations with Jacob. As the tale moves to its tragic conclusion, Pintauro examines Jacob’s dilemmas with fearless emotionality and poetic richness. In some of the most compelling scenes, Jacob is confronted by the ghost of his younger self, to whom he must explain his crisis of faith.
Pintauro as director adds to his script’s theatrical heft. Within the minuscule playing space, his staging, abetted by Jason Jeunnette’s lighting, easily establishes the play’s shifting locales. More significant, he has elicited forceful performances from his five actors. Jon Ecklund’s truthfully appealing portrayal of Jacob takes us directly into the man’s soul. Cary Woodworth is alternately repellent and sympathetic playing both Jacob’s accuser and young Jacob. Kate Middleton endows the problematic role of the reporter with veracity, and Tom Godfrey captures both the cardinal’s smugness and compassion. Vincent Marano adds droll humor as the parish’s good-pal priest.
The storytelling isn’t free of contrivance. The reporter pursuing her story with such vigor has suffered betrayals from the men in her life and also was for many years a devoted parishioner of Jacob’s church. Her willingness to believe the allegations of the apparently psychotic hustler is questionable. And the fact that the cardinal is physically blind may be overloaded symbolism. But these are small distractions in the concentrated power of the piece, a questioning parable of spiritual striving and human frailty.
Presented by and at Manhattan Theatre Source,
April 23–May 16. Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.