Bless him, Father, for he has sinned.
Jack Grace is eager to confess his every petty crime and misdemeanor in James McLindon’s funny and fast “Salvation,” a black comedy in its world premiere at Briarcliff’s Hudson Stage Company.
He might be a bit too eager to confess, banking on a lesson he learned in second-grade in Catholic school.
“Sister Angela told us God so loved us, that no matter how sinful a life we might lead, we could still go to heaven as long as we made a perfect confession just before we died,” the dying man says.
To make sure his last confession is as immaculate as his life was law-defying, he has paperwork: spreadsheet page after spreadsheet page listing his life’s work.
“I’m going up clean,” he says.
Jack is a complex character, a criminal who can quote Yeats and Shakespeare but who can’t control his crooked tendencies. On the day of his death — Ash Wednesday — he still can’t help but filch money from his son’s wallet.
His motto: “Trust everyone, but keep a gun on ’em.”
Jack’s son, Bartholomew, “Barty” for short, is a watcher, not a doer, unable to leave the confines of Jack’s distressed and depressing apartment.
“I hate being with you,” he tells Jack. “But at least it’s familiar.”
There’s contempt behind that familiarity, but there’s also a healthy dose of love.
Enter a weary and slightly confused Father Gallagher, and you’ve got a final confession unlike any other.
Fittingly for a script that twists and turns on a dime, Giovanna Sardelli directs “Salvation” at times like a screwball comedy and at times like a courtroom drama wherein Jack lays out his case for heaven.
The good father ping-pongs about the set, as guns are drawn and the story takes a darker turn.
Before long, a fourth character arrives and the roller-coaster ride gets even wilder.
Paul Carlin is completely at ease as Jack, dexterously shifting gears while pinned to his Barcalounger. Carlin — the son of actress Frances Sternhagen and her late husband, Tom Carlin — positively nails Jack, tempering his bluster and braggadocio with moments of heartfelt concern and poetic irony.
It is the fully formed performance the play requires.
As Barty, Josh Barrett is wounded and emotionally paralyzed, living in Jack’s considerable shadow.
But when those still waters roil late in the action, Barrett more than delivers on the character’s promise.
John FitzGibbon plays Father Gallagher at first as flighty and unfocused, but he eventually finds his center.
The fight scenes — yes, this confession includes fight scenes — staged by Rick Sordelet, will benefit from repetition. At Saturday’s opening, they seemed rudimentary and unpolished.
Jack O’Connell has a great character face and plays the play’s fourth role with a no-nonsense simplicity that is spot-on.
As always, all departments are first rate at Hudson Stage.
Steven C. Kemp’s set is a study in neglect. The cracked window pane is Scotch-taped to keep the Boston weather out. The filthy mini-blinds are in a state of disrepair. Years of water damage have taken their toll on the wallpaper.
Andrew Gmoser’s lights and Jon Kadela’s sound design flesh out the story and Paloma Young’s costumes are appropriate.
“Salvation” touches on fathers and sons, forgiveness, religion, life, death and crime.
But whenever things get too heavy, McLindon is ready with a bit of wackiness to lighten the mood.
While this may, in the end, rob it of its punch and make it seem slighter, strong direction and fine performances still add up to a satisfying ride.
“Salvation” Through Nov. 13. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Oct. 31, Nov. 7 and 13. Woodward Hall Theatre at Pace University, 235 Elm Road, Briarcliff Manor. $30; $25 for students and seniors. 877-238-5596 or 914-271-2811. Go to the Hudson Stage website.
Photo by Gerry Goodstein: The cast of “Salvation” at Hudson Stage includes, from left: Paul Carlin as Jack, Josh Barrett as his son, Barty, and John FitzGibbon as Father Gallagher.