By John Lyle Belden
“What can just one man do?” “It’ll take a miracle!”
Such sentiments summon angels, and can herald an uplifting story like “The Lilies of the Field,” the play by Andrew Leslie based on the William E. Barrett novel that inspired the 1963 film starring Sidney Poitier. Now the “Lilies” grow in Noblesville, courtesy of the Belfry Theatre, directed by Linnea Leatherman.
In 1954, Homer Smith (DeJon LeTray Marshall-Fisher), freshly discharged from the Army, is done with having people tell him what to do. He outfits a nice station wagon and roams the American West, taking day jobs when he feels like it. In a remote valley in the Southwest, he comes across a farm being tended by several aging nuns in obvious need of help. He plans to just pitch in long enough to patch a roof, take a day’s pay and be on his way – but Mother Maria Marthe (Kim O’Mara), and perhaps a Higher Power, have other plans.
The Sisters have escaped from Communist East Germany and Hungary, and get little aid from the Church, attending Mass in a town a few miles down the road, at an old mission church led by young priest Father Gomez (Gideon Roark). Smith’s race is of little consequence here, among the Germanic nuns and Latinix villagers – they just think he’s a little loco for taking on Mother Maria’s quest to build an adobe chapel on the site of a burned-out house. He’s not entirely certain how he got talked into it, himself.
The locals are represented in this play by Jose Gonzalez (Patrick Crowley), who runs the diner near Gomez’s church. We also meet rich construction contractor Orville Livingston (Gene Burnett), who helped settle the Sisters in the United States, and figured that would be the end of his obligation.
It is worth it to see this play just for the super-sweet and charming nuns under Mother Maria’s care, played joyfully by Jan Jamison, Judy McGroarty, Jan Borcherding, and especially Diane Reed as dear Sister Albertine. Their humor and exuberance — whether learning English, or singing “That Old Time Religion,” with the man they call “Schmidt” — shines through.
Borcherding also appears as a folksinger in a nice framing device for each Act.
Marshall-Fisher makes a very likable Smith with compulsive generosity, while stubborn at times, but not mean. O’Mara never cracks from the stern, stoic shell she creates for Mother Maria, but she’s far from heartless. Roark and Crowley’s characters seem to enjoy watching this unfold as much as we do. Burnett plays Livingston being as hard as the materials he builds with, but still human.
But that chapel — can one man really do it? Witness the “miracle” at Ivy Tech Auditorium, 300 N. 17th St., Noblesville, through March 27. Get info and tickets at thebelfrytheatre.com.