Friday, May 05, 2006

Custody of the Eyes (Cleveland Play House)

CPH’s ‘CUSTODY OF THE EYES’ is interesting, but not compelling

The title of Anthony Giardina’s play, ‘CUSTODY OF THE EYES’ is based on the concept that Priests and others who are supposed to be thinking moral thoughts are taught that ”you do not look in the eyes of what may tempt you.”

A recent discussion on a Catholic forum website centered on, “How is one to keep custody of the eyes"? Does it depend on your intentions? If one's thoughts are sexual in nature, surely one should avert his eyes. But what if one is merely admiring? Or is it good to admire and thank God for such beauty?” A responder stated, “Here is a simple rule: look once and you’re okay, look twice and you are in danger of sin.”

A play of temptation, ‘CUSTODY OF THE EYES’ centers on the disappearance of a parish priest from a remote island off the coast of Maine. What made him vanish? What is the connection between his disappearance and his relationship with a woman and her ill son? Was the vanishing stimulated by his need to search for a view of the world through a different set of eyes than those focused by church dictates?

A Bishop and another priest come to the island to investigate the disappearance. These men, who have histories in which their eyes also searched and found what they shouldn’t, are forced to dig beyond the disappearance and into their own lives.

‘CUSTODY OF THE EYES’ examines multi-issues including that “Priests were not meant to feel,” the evolving public awareness of homosexuality within the church, the covering up of discretions, the requirement of celibacy for priests, and the dwindling number of “loyal believers.”

The script is interesting, but not intriguing. It is too formulaic in places, but does make one think. The writing creates subtle conflict, rather than strong emotional highs and lows. Some of the language lacks verbal flow, creating static moments. It does not compare in intensity to the present smash Broadway hit, ‘DOUBT’ which also investigates church issues.

The CPH production, which is very slowly paced by director Michael Butler, features some excellent acting. Joseph Collins (Father LeBlanc) plays the tortured young priest with clarity. The character’s conflict between strict morality, uptight obedience, and his underlying understanding of the need for human emotional reactions, is nicely etched.

Kenneth Tigar, as an older priest who gave up his parish because of his inability to act correctly according to the rules of the custody of the eyes, is excellent as the tortured soul. His long monologue, which reveals his trespasses, was compelling.

Paula Duesing is right on target as the islander who volunteers at the local church. J. R. Horne properly underplays the role of the Bishop.

On the other hand, Jan Leslie Harding gives a surface level performance as the woman who causes LeBlanc to have trouble in averting his eyes. She feigns emotions, doesn’t experience them. Mark Mayo, in a dual role, is also not completely convincing in his characterizations. It often sounds like he is reciting words, not creating the meanings of the words.

Russell Parkman’s design does little to create the proper setting. Though the wooden walls, which are referred to in the script, are necessary, their sliding up and down stage did little to help imagery. Because the set does not fill up the entire stage, those sitting stage right were regularly distracted by viewing actors and stage hands in the wings.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘CUSTODY OF THE EYES’ is a play worth seeing as it investigates concepts that are not commonly discussed within or outside of the Church. One could have hoped, however, that the issues had been more vividly textured.