I first read the Father Brown stories – avidly – when I was about 12 and living in Catholic boarding school in England. Father Brown was created by famous British writer, G.K. Chesterton, and modeled on Father John O’Connor his local parish priest. The first of the 51 stories appeared in 1912 and are still being published today. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown's methods are intuitive rather than deductive. Here is a detective who by looking into the soul of a criminal understands the motives which drove him to commit the crime. Having received thousands of confessions, men and women baring their souls, he’s heard it all. Compassion was Father Brown’s métier, balanced by his perceptiveness, and “Innocence” captures this spirit of understanding and forgiveness.
Patrick Rieger has cleverly adapted four of the original stories into a cinematic stream that weaves multiple crimes into a smoothly flowing thriller. Three were personal favorites: the evil man struck down by God’s hammer; the postman no one saw, and the phony guru who devises the perfect murder. It was a pleasure for me to see these acted out and, hopefully, those who never read the stories will enjoy trying to outguess Father Brown.
As head of this young but enthusiastic cast, Blake Walker’s Father Brown is pleasingly rosy cheeked and bespectacled; Brandon Parrish as arch criminal Flambeau is good when evil and very good when repentant; Terrance Robinson is excellent in three widely different roles – a calm priest, a religious fanatic and a snooty butler; Adam Daniel Elliott seemed a bit over the top as the Chief Inspector but in the end his rages were significant; Kate O’Toole was impressive in many roles, especially as a reluctant floozy; Erika M. Frances was adorable as a young gal torn between love and common sense, and Jon Snow and Michael Hoag deserve credit for the many roles they admirably played, whether alive or dead.
Producers Allison Darby Gorjian and Betsy Roth, who also co-directed, took on the task of making a small theatre do justice to the vast canvas required. To help it flow, set and lighting designer Jeremy Williams created moveable walls with church-like panels in keeping with the ecumenical motif, helped along by effective sound by Andrew Villaverde and appropriate costumes by Paige Draney.
This guest production by Little Candle Productions, presented at Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave, South Pasadena. CA 91030, runs through Sunday, April 28.