Tree House Lounge

Remaining Performances (tickets available here):

Wednesday, July 22 at 6:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 25 at 12:45 p.m.

They say: Saturday night. Awaiting Confession, a shallow priest discusses dogma, doctrine and his secret doubts. (And his favorite sins and sinners.) Then, after 20 years, a lapsed Catholic returns to confess “the big one” and how the Church has failed him.

Brett’s Take: Two perfectly written short plays performed perfectly; the only reason to skip one of the remaining two performances of Priest/Penitent is if the subject matter doesn’t interest you at all, or you’re utterly allergic to one-man shows.

Bob Lohrmann, who directs and stars, is the Associate Artistic Director of Shear Madness at the Kennedy Center, with a boatload of professional credits. It’s reasonable to assume he’s performing this show at Fringe because it’s a labor of love — and too short, at an hour, to get on a mainstage anywhere else. Indeed, he reports in the program that he’s been in pursuit of a chance to put on this pair of plays by British writer Wally K. Daly for nearly four decades. It’s well worth the wait.

The questions of religion, faith, and dogma that Daly addresses are as relevant today as they were when the play was first written. The humor holds up just as well, too. In “Priest: A Comedy of Catholicism,” Lohrmann takes on the role of an unnamed Priest getting ready for Saturday night confession. He is jovial, somewhat irreverent, at times vulgar, yet always devoted to the Church. The character is a bundle of hilarious contradictions who one moment questions whether masturbation ought to really be a sin given how often young boys are drawn to it, and the next says that “you can always tell a good Christian by the state of his sheets.”

Our sympathies are jerked left and right, an interesting experience given how solidly Lohrmann inhabits the character and makes of all those contradictions seem natural. It’s for us to wonder how much we agree with or despise a priest who is cheerfully and casually racist at the same time as he is hurt by the persecution that Catholics themselves have received over the centuries. Lohrmann doesn’t stack the deck either way; he simply plays the man as he is, a whole and complex person.

The religious rollercoaster ride continues in the second segment, “Penitent: A Tragedy of Catholicism,” where the again-unnamed Confessor — a much earthier, working-class fella than the Priest, who hails from somewhere in England where there are no trees for miles — has come to make his first confession in years. He circles around his “Big One,” some terrible sin that he committed, keeping us in suspense. Wondering aloud what exactly drove him from the church in the first place and what brought him back, he uses his tale to hold up a darker mirror to the Priest’s.

While focused on Catholicism in all its quirks and peccadilloes (both characters, for instance, have an atypical relationship with the Eucharist), the portrait the show paints of the good, bad, and the funny that occurs around the confessional booth is accessible to all, and certain to complicate the feelings of anybody in regards to faith and its institutions — as soon as they’re done having a good time.

See it if: You have any thoughts whatsoever about religion.

Skip it if: You get offended by depictions of religion that are anything but spotless.

Handout photo courtesy of Bob Lohrmann