Tuesday, January 30, 2024

A Matter of Faith - Where Just Having Conviction Is Not Enough

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

The question of faith and what it represents can be found at the core of Ian Richard Barnes' very intense and sometimes talky drama, A Matter of Faith. Presented by Reckless Few Theatrical Productions at the Chain Theatre, this is definitely not a work for the faint of heart.

The story opens in the squalid basement home of Seamus (Henry Frontini), a longtime drug addict. Seamus has fallen so far, he has completely given up on life and just wants everything to end. Temporary salvation arrives, ironically, in the form of his supplier, Kenley (Barnes). Seamus it seems, owes him money and Kenley has no intention of letting him go anywhere until matters between the two are resolved.

(L-R) Ian Richard Barnes and Henry Frontini in "A Matter of Faith." Photo credit: Matt Weinberger.

The story eventually shifts to The Beacon, a rehabilitation facility/halfway house where Kenley has now been living for over a year. He claims his triumph over his own demons occurred once he learned to let Jesus into his life. Though Izzy (Ava Paris Locknar), a recovering addict who works The Beacon overnight shift, clearly doubts this. Kenley seemingly just talking the talk when it comes to salvation, rather than actually having done the work necessary for recovery. Not to mention his trying to flirt with Izzy while keeping out of sight from people still looking for him. Izzy also considers the place where Kenley claims to have started his rehabilitation process a questionable one at best. 

Matters come to a head with the arrival of Seamus' brother, Patrick (Frontini). A former priest and current alcoholic, Patrick is wracked with guilt over his refusal to be his brother’s lifeline until he gets serious about fixing himself. Now the only thing Patrick wants is to find comfort through the teachings of the Bible. Kenley however, who is seeking his own form of forgiveness, has other ideas.

(L-R) Henry Frontini and Ava Paris Locknar in "A Matter of Faith." Photo credit: Matt Weinberger.

As the play makes clear, the idea of finding something to believe in, be it faith, self-awareness or whatever you want to call it, means nothing unless one is willing to do the work needed to begin the process of healing. Something Kenley and Patrick have yet to come close to achieving. It’s a credit to the story that for all the continual talk about what faith does or does not mean, one never gets the feeling the playwright is trying to impose his own particular point of view on the characters he's created.

While much of what unfolds is very good, with the audience often on the edge of their seats as they wait for the next potential explosion to occur, the show’s quieter moments tend to drag somewhat. The various discussions in regards to the different perceptions of faith, while involving, could easily have been trimmed as a sameness in these conversations soon emerges. In addition, the opening sequence between Seamus and Kenley might have worked better if it were folded in later as a sort of flashback and interspersed with the action at The Beacon rather than a standalone scene. Something for the creative team to think about before the play’s next incarnation.

Barnes is the standout of the cast. His performance embodies Kenley with an angry nature that continually simmers just below the surface. One which threatens to erupt at any moment. Conversely, he’s also someone you want to like at times, with his wisecracks and seemingly jovial attitude, but also a person you do not want as an enemy. Especially as his so-called attempts to make amends can be quite disconcerting, to say the least.

(L-R) Ian Richard Barnes and Henry Frontini in "A Matter of Faith." Photo credit: Matt Weinberger.

Frontini is riveting as Seamus, a tormented soul who knows that he has destroyed his life. The scene where he swears that the "fix" he is about to give himself will really and truly this time be the last one he ever takes is heartbreaking in its intensity. He also does well as Patrick, a man who carries feelings of anger inside he never knew he had, and ones he must be willing to face before he can finally begin his own healing process. 

                            Henry Frontini in "A Matter of Faith." Photo credit: Matt Weinberger.

Barnes and Frontini's performances are helped tremendously by director Augustus Childres' understanding of exactly what these two characters are capable of and allowing the actors to play off each other brilliantly in their scenes together.

Locknar is fine as Izzy, the bit of stability Kenley and Patrick revolve around. A woman who has learned to temper her compassion for her fellow addicts with a no-nonsense resolve when it comes to rule-breaking on her watch. While also never afraid to open up about her own struggles, and admitting there is still much that she can learn.

A Matter of Faith looks at the process broken people go through as they try to reclaim their lives. Not an easy play to watch, it offers a powerful message about healing, recovery and what must be done before becoming whole is even a possibility.

Featuring: Ava Paris Locknar (Izzy), Ian Richard Barnes (Kenley), Henry Frontini (Seamus & Patrick).

A Matter of Faith

An original play by Ian Richard Barnes

Presented by Reckless Few Theatrical Productions

Production Stage Manager: Kimberly Van Vo
Sound Design: Sam Henry
Lighting Design: Lauren Lee

Directed by Augustus Childres

The Chain Theatre

312 West 36th Street, 4th Floor

Tickets: www.eventbrite.com 

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes, no intermission

Closes: February 4, 2024

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