It's easy to see why Disney bought the film rights for To Forgive, Divine a few years ago, but it's somehow no surprise that the studio still hasn't greenlighted this cute, comedic morality tale.
Jack Neary's fretful little play about a Catholic priest and a married woman who are tempted to break their vows is a formulaic affair. That's fine. Its problem isn't the plot, which twists ever-so-conveniently as it takes us where we already know we're going. Rather, it's the inexplicable change in the basic personalities of those two main characters, who after 90 minutes suddenly feel almost like strangers.
Without any real motivation, the married woman (a tad-too-tepid Jocelyn Hall) transforms from lovestruck impetuousness to level-headed restraint and the priest (a way-too-whiny Joe Hogan) shifts from clueless goofus to speaking of the pompitous of love.
Meanwhile, Bobby D. Lux doesn't bring enough menace to give credibility to the threats of the jealous husband, and Neda Armstrong is unfairly assigned the role of a silly schoolgirl probably 10 years her junior. The production gets its ballast from Diana Mann, completely believable as a hectoring church maid as devoted to her parish as she is helpless against gossiping about it.
Despite some shortcomings, and even though the outcome holds no real surprise, there is nonetheless plenty to enjoy, endure and even contemplate during a yakkity two hours in a New England church. Some of it is the familiar Nunsense-style fun with Catholic iconography and some of it is rather tiresome spiritual truisms, but there are moments of penetrating thought—and I have to admit I teared up a bit at Father Jerry Dolan's sweet-but-straight take on the mystery of death.
It's also kind of inspirational to see community theater fight to get a foothold in Bellflower, a suburb just over the county line that is slowly revitalizing its old-style downtown after years of economic downturn. With 44 seats inside a remodeled bakery, the Bellflower Theater Company is a perfectly imperfect venue for a play that comes this close to getting it right.
TO FORGIVE, DIVINE, AT THE BELLFLOWER THEATER COMPANY, 9831 BELMONT ST., BELLFLOWER, (562) 867-3524; WWW.FLEABITTENPRODUCTIONS.COM. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SAT.-SUN., 2 P.M. THROUGH JAN. 27. $12-$15.
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