The characters in Kate Fodor’s 2007 play “100 Saints You Should Know” — onstage in a Theatre Rhinoceros production in The City — are desperately seeking ... something elusive.
Former hippie and Deadhead Theresa, now a cleaning woman, is spiritually lost; a single mother and high school dropout, she wonders if religion might offer hope.
Her caustic, cynical teenage daughter, Abby, suspects she herself might be inherently bad.
Grocery delivery boy Garrett, friendless and naive, fears he’s gay.
Even steely, churchgoing Irish immigrant Colleen is struggling to deal with widowhood and unsettling threats to the religious faith she so blindly clings to.
At one point or another, all turn to Colleen’s taciturn son, Matthew, a priest, for answers. But the isolated and repressed Matthew, on a mandatory three-month leave from his church due to impropriety (no, not that kind), has no solace to offer anyone. He reads “Dark Night of the Soul” by St. John of the Cross, and aches for human contact but at the same time can’t abide it.
All, in one way or another, long for “a surge of the heart.”
A traumatic accident ultimately brings all five together, but before that happens, Fodor presents a series of two-character scenes that are suffused with both anguish and humor and that ring true in their depiction of the way people reach out to each other, reject each other, torment each other and obfuscate their naked need for each other. Throughout, the comedy and tragedy of the human condition maintain a perfect balance.
John Fisher directs his fine Theatre Rhinoceros cast with great sensitivity to the nuances of the characters’ interactions.
Kim Stephenson mines both the surface rebelliousness and the underlying vulnerability in the flouncing, manipulative Abby. And although Ann Lawler, as her long-suffering mother, unfortunately looks to be about the same age as her daughter — and seems oddly non-reactive during Abby’s initial tirade — the actors ultimately make their fraught relationship believable.
Michael Rosen’s Garrett is too loud and, in his first scene, too self-consciously mannered, but soon enough relaxes into the role of awkward adolescent.
Most touching, perhaps, are the scenes between Colleen and Matthew. Both mother and son are transparently needy yet mired within their own individual rigidity. Tamar Cohn and Wylie Herman beautifully capture that sad dichotomy.
Fodor wisely doesn’t provide contrived answers to her characters’ dilemmas, but she does ultimately hint at redemption in a way that feels authentic.
100 Saints You Should Know
Presented by Theatre Rhinoceros
Where: Thick House, 169 18th St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays; closes July 1
Tickets: $10 to $30
Contact: (415) 552-4100, www.therhino.org