NY Times on Ascension

Temptation, the Priest, the Youth and His Mother

Published: October 12, 2006

 

At the start of Edmund De Santis’s “Ascension,” the characters seem perfectly normal. The personable Rev. Calvin Porter (Stephen Hope), who is in line to become a bishop, is in his office, chatting with a parishioner, Agnes Sabatino (Lucy McMichael), about handling the food for a coming church event.

M Geller

Brandon Ruckdashel, flanked by Lucy McMichael and Stephen Hope.

 

 

It should probably be a hint of things to come that Agnes is wearing sunglasses indoors and a raincoat three sizes too large. She admires a painting of the crucifixion (“This Christ has a nice body”) and admits to having seen “Ben Hur” 327 times.

And yes, before you know it, Agnes is accusing Father Calvin of sexual abuse. The long-ago victim is her son Lorenzo, who is now grown and suicidal, she says, because of the emotional damage.

For a second “Ascension” looks like “Doubt,” John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama. But the entrance of Lorenzo (Brandon Ruckdashel) changes everything.

The 23-year-old Mr. Ruckdashel is making his Off Broadway debut and it is a stunning one. This is partly because he has the intense blond good looks of a youngBrad Pitt with a soupçon of James Dean.

But Mr. Ruckdashel’s performance is also noteworthy because his Lorenzo vibrates with the smug and nonchalant power of youth. Father Calvin, it appears, is determined to resist him physically, but the odds aren’t good. It’s not clear who could resist when Lorenzo whispers: “God’s not here now. It’s just you and me.”

And this is before he takes his clothes off. (There is full frontal male nudity in Act II.)

Mr. De Santis has written a clever comic drama with satisfyingly acidic attitude, considerable passion and a killer ending. This is a mystery too, giving, taking back and re-evaluating clues about which, if any, of the three characters is telling the whole truth.

Marc Geller has directed his players smoothly, allowing Mr. Hope a tasty Michael Corleone moment and giving Ms. McMichael free rein to be the dark-comic relief. Not every actress can make “We’re all whores” a punch line.

Performances of “Ascension” will continue through Oct. 21 at the Lion Theater, 410 West 42nd Street; (212) 279-4200 or ticketcentral.com.