RACING DEMON, Organic Touchstone Company, at Touchstone Theatre. The newly merged Organic Touchstone Company is off to a superb start with this production of David Hare's thoughtful, touching, wryly humorous play. Like a cross between a Susan Howatch novel of Anglican angst and a sardonic Evelyn Waugh social satire, Hare's drama examines moral wrangling and political intrigue in the Church of England. The Reverend Lionel Espy is a burnt-out liberal preoccupied with providing social services rather than theological inspiration to his working-class parishioners. Targeted for discipline or dismissal by a reactionary bishop aiming to quell change in the church, Espy resists, and how his resistance affects him, his friends, and his family is the crux of the tale.
Though the play is too long and schematic, its intelligence and compassion are compelling. Rooted in specific concerns facing the modern church, Racing Demon is most powerful at its most universal, as it probes the causes and effects of disillusioned idealism. It's also a flavorful actors' showcase, and Ina Marlowe's spare staging emphasizes human interaction rather than churchly pomp. Mike Nussbaum's nuanced performance perfectly captures Espy's kindness, selfishness, dithery diffidence, and long-dormant strength. Also fine are William J. Norris as Espy's right-wing superior, Jim Ortlieb as a gentle gay priest both undone and liberated by tabloid scandal, Thomas Gebbia as the firebrand who supplants Espy, Brad Armacost as one of Espy's supporters, and Patricia Donegan as Espy's neglected wife. Bringing out the human ache in their characters, the cast make Hare's portrait of idealists in conflict deeply rewarding theater.