100 Saints You Should Know
or Dark Night of the Soul
Before heading to the Dayton Theatre Guild this evening to see a friend perform in Kate Fodor’s play 100 Saints You Should Know, I didn’t have any idea what the play was about.
You can’t really guess from the play’s title. I don’t think it’s giving too much away, however, to tell that the title of a book that features prominently in the plot, Dark Night of the Soul, might actually be a more apt title for this play. 100 Saints features five characters—a single mother and her teenage daughter, a priest and his widowed mother, and a teenage grocery delivery boy—and during the play each of these people has a dark night, both the actual dark night that comprises the bulk of the play’s timeline as well as a longer lasting figurative and lonely night of searching for something missing from their souls.
That may sound rather depressing, and I won’t kid you, this play is rather depressing, but it’s not all depressing. A couple who sat in front of me left after the first act, and in many ways the first act was the best act, so perhaps this couple got their money’s worth. The first act has some really funny lines—after the play my friend told me that as she was on stage she heard my laugh so she knew I was there, and another friend of hers commented that one minor thing that could be improved was the pacing—my friend and the other actors needed to pause a bit after some lines to give the audience time to react before they proceeded.
One of my favorite parts of the play is a scene in which the priest, in the middle of the night, talks directly to us in the audience to explain exactly why
it is that he’s back home in his mother’s house, and, as he talks, on white curtains behind him are projected a series of black and white photographs. To the right here you can see an example of one of the photographs, all of which were taken in the 1940s and 50s by George Platt Lynes and all of which feature handsome naked men in various artful poses. Yes, I liked this scene because I, like the priest, appreciated Lynes’ work and his subjects, and yes, you can probably figure out that the priest’s liking these photos caused a bit of crisis of faith for him.
Earlier in the first act is another good scene, featuring the priest quoting to his mother from the book he is reading. He’s reading the aforementioned Dark Night of the Soul, poetry by Saint John of the Cross, and the priest’s poor mother makes the mistake of asking him to recite some of it.
Upon my flowering breast which I kept wholly for him alone, there he lay sleeping, and I caressing him there in a breeze from the fanning cedars. / When the breeze blew from the turret, as I parted his hair, it wounded my neck with its gentle hand, suspending all my senses.
recites the priest, touchingly, I thought, but shockingly, thinks his mother, who doesn’t want to hear any more. Bless her heart, she may not know that “sole” isn’t the correct spelling of the thing that God looks into, but she seems to recognize Dark Night of the Soul as gay men’s spirituality, even if she wouldn’t call it that.
Later, in another scene between the priest and his mother, one of many pairings in the play of the five characters, she admits to him that she, like him, is lonely, and that she wouldn’t wish loneliness like that on her son. She’s a good Catholic mother whose first instinct is to feed her son and who doesn’t really want to face head on who her son is (although she does recognize it even if she won’t admit it), but all the characters in 100 Saints are lonely in their own ways.
The teenage delivery boy, who we first meet carrying in a large order of groceries the mother has ordered for her son the priest, has had a similarly revealing interaction with his own father, even though that father is not a role in the cast. It turns out that the grocer has warned his son rather explicitly about the priest, and I’d guess that the grocer is as begrudgingly prescient about his own son as the priest’s mother is about hers.
Perhaps the most heart wrenching aspect of 100 Saints is this delivery boy. He faces his own dark night of the soul, at a much earlier age than does the priest, but unfortunately for him he seeks answers in all the wrong places. One such place is the priest himself, who’s just not equipped to give the boy the help he needs, and another such place is the single mother’s bad girl daughter, who, not having gotten helpful answers in her own life from her mother, also isn’t equipped to help the delivery boy.
Just as the delivery boy doesn’t find the answers he seeks, so too do we as 100 Saints’ audience not find good answers. 100 Saints ended rather abruptly, after a prayer, and I left feeling a bit unsatisfied. That’s not the fault of the actors, nor even of the playwright necessarily. Whose fault is it? God’s, perhaps? Life just doesn’t always happen in nice neat little packages.
So should you see this play? If you’re reading this after March 10th, you’re too late, but if you’re in time, and if you, like me and like so many people, find yourself going through your own dark night of the soul, then yes, do go. You may not find answers, but you’ll find plenty to think about.