A DIVINE COMEDY written and directed by Dennis Hassell, with Eric Fink, Diane Hollingsworth, Jane Miller, Jacklyn Francis, Richard Peters, Arthur Wachnik and Scott Maudsley. Presented by Brookstone Performing Arts at the Walmer Centre (1881/2 Lowther). Runs to May 12, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 4 pm. $20-$25. 416-922-1238. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
For sure, churchgoers past and present will enjoy the manna in Dennis Hassell's A Divine Comedy, but other audience members will also give thanks for this gift from the gods of laughter. Set in the failing urban parish of St. Hilaria's, the story concerns the efforts of Bob (Richard Peters), its seminary-fresh pastor, to raise the congregation numbers, or else the church itself will be razed for a condo.
Though the comedy relies too much on puns and mispronunciations, and the plotting has some sitcom contrivance, Hassell creates some genuinely funny situations and lines.
His skill is in creating the eccentric figures who spin crazily around Bob, among them an evangelically driven, gospel-spouting Southerner named Hellen Dalmation (Diane Hollingsworth) and a wide-eyed, innocently sexy blond named Barbie (Jacklyn Francis) who seems cloned from well, you get the point.
Even better, Hassell humanizes these figures of farce over the course of the show, and as director works with the well-knit ensemble cast to give real heart as well as fast-paced comic energy to the production. Peters is a fine foil to the madness around him, and his interaction with Jane Miller as his part-time secretary has some nicely sensual touches.
The spirituality that Brookstone brings to its productions is one of the basic texts of A Divine Comedy, but the well-played fun and bigger questions of faith intermingled with it open the show up to a wide audience.JK