Imagine a drama that treats the subjects of religion and homosexuality with maturity, doesn’t condescend with easy answers, and actually serves up hard-earned wisdom instead of cheap irony. David Foley’s
Paradise is almost that play. Set in New York, this urbane character study takes place inside the head of Robbie (Brandon Wolcott), a young copy editor who’s trying to reconnect with his Catholic roots. His spiritual quest takes a detour when a friend sets him up with Carlos (Joseph Melendez), an openly gay Catholic who attends Mass every Sunday. Is he an answer to Robbie’s prayers? He turns out to be more of a mixed blessing, for both Robbie and the play itself.
Paradise breaks no new ground in the gay soul-searching mini-genre, but at least it avoids the screeching hysterics of Paul Rudnick’s Jeffrey. Faith is heavy stuff, and Paradise is that rare Off-Broadway specimen that takes Christianity seriously. (Even a pedophiliac priest from one character’s past is permitted a tragic dignity.) If anything, Foley’s play adheres too strictly to its self-imposed vow of solemnity. It mopes and frets its way through pseudo-profound setups, most of them involving Carlos attempting to coax Robbie out of his many psychological closets. Though compassionately acted, neither character rises much above demographic caricature—Robbie, the uptight white boy, is somewhat endearing, but poor Carlos remains a one-note Latin stallion.
Foley fares better at garrulous group scenes, particularly a long dinner party sequence where the guests discuss the meaning of love, only to discover how little each of them has settled for. As one frumpy wife says of her husband, “I’m used to him. He’s there.” Foley’s despairing play feels the most hopeful when acknowledging that this is as close to paradise as most of us will get.