- Terelle Jerricks
The Innocence of Father Brown is not long on production values but it is big on words and thoughts.
The program describes Father Brown, the detective created by G. K. Chesterton in half a dozen volumes and more than 60 stories, as a humanist as well as religious detective, but that is quite wrong.
Father Brown represents, at least to Chesterton, a Catholic convert himself, all that is great and rational about the Catholic Church. Father Brown solves mysteries by putting himself in the shoes of criminals, by understanding their motives (he has, after all, heard much worse in years of confessions) and by not making the errors that his friends make of presuming anything.
That makes him a hard person to capture in performance. There is as much philosophizing as detecting in his solutions. The few depictions of him on film have often been defeated by this double standard: he can solve the mystery but isn’t given time to explain himself otherwise.
But, in the current world premier production of Innocence at the Fremont Center Theatre he is given time to lets us know what he thinks. Patrick Rieger adapted some of Chesterton’s stories for this production and what they lack in setting and design (there are just a few chairs and a couple of mobile backgrounds on the small Fremont Center stage) they make up in revealing dialogue.
Director Allison Darby Gorjian does an adequate job of moving her characters around the stage, though without enough of an eye or rather an ear for her actor’s: much is lost because they don’t speak clearly and often address each other without cheating towards the audience. But once your ears are ready for them, and your attention is focused (as it has to be) you get a good helping of Chesterton and seven stories from the original book, a heaping helping of Father Brown and a bit of an education in religious philosophy as well as criminal behavior.
Father Brown is Blake Walker, perhaps a little young for his role, but certainly as unpresuming and hardly noticeable as Father Brown is supposed to be. You would hardly notice him in a crowd and you never would think that he knew anything about crime at all. But from the first he proves himself very clever indeed, defeating Flambeau (Brandon Parrish) when he tries to steal a jeweled cross from the Father. In half a dozen other stories, tied together cleverly by the playwright in a brief two hours Brown solves several murders, always explaining his insights clearly and effectively. Rieger knows what matters in these stories: the explanations, not the crime, and he allows his actors time to hear the explanations from the priest.
The rest of the cast often doubles in roles and as stagehands. The play is presented without any tricks: straightforward and with embellishment. It helps a great deal if you known the Father Brown stories, which are charming and fascinating. Father Brown is no Sherlock Holmes, but comes close and is well worth knowing better.
Tickets are $25, students and seniors $20. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through April 28.