American Century Theater Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For YouBy Rachael Murray • Jun 13th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
American Century Theater
Gunston Arts Center, Arlington, VA
Through July 7th
$30-$35/$27-$32 Seniors, students, military
Reviewed June 10th, 2012
American Century Theatre’s presentation of Christopher Durang’s Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You is a blackly satirical examination of Catholic dogma and its effects. The play is a crash-course in Catholicism: Sister Mary Ignatius is literally instructing us on the ins and outs. Sister Mary comes from a difficult period in Catholic history, as she grew up before Vatican II, yet is now grappling with its aftershocks. Four students show up to confront their former schoolteacher about the lasting damage her lessons have had on them under the guise of performing a Christmas pageant.
Sister Mary Ignatius, played by Cam Magee, is a hard woman. She never breaks from her air of oppressive pleasantness, even when discussing a largely unpleasant upbringing. From her description, it is assumed that she (and some of her siblings) took refuge in the cloth. She is assisted in her doctrinal lecture by Thomas (the adorable and darkly obedient Colin Trinity), a current student of hers. Sister Mary’s former students come to visit her. All have been emotionally scarred from the guilt of sin due to their years in Catholic school under the sister’s tutelage. On the whole, the ensemble is solid, though all carry a feeling of being “in” on the jokes, which I found somewhat took away from the impact of great punch lines.
Director Joe Banno’s clever staging seats many audience members in the “classroom,” while the remainder of the crowd flanks the classroom floor on risers. The “stage” is the front of the classroom. There are glimpses here of Banno’s documentary-style take, but much of it is overpowered by the pervasive element of anti-Catholicism. While it is certainly the point of Durang’s satire to poke fun at the inconsistencies or hypocrisies within the church, this take on Mary Ignatius seems to begin at the understanding that the audience is already, obviously, “against” the Catholic Church.
The set (Steven Royal) is very impressive. When I first walked into the theatre, I was taken aback; I really thought I had walked into a classroom. The desks were authentic: Standard Public School Issue. At the front of the “classroom” is a long blackboard flanked by two full bookcases. Cheryl Patton Wu’s costumes are fun and functional, save for a minor wimple mishap at the performance I attended. The lighting (Trena Weiss-Null and Nathan Wunderlich) is ultra-practical, down to the glaring fluorescent fixtures that appear to have been swiped from some institution or other.
American Century Theater’s Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You is an awkwardly funny hour of theatre. Durang’s satirical bite combines with an outstanding scenic design and staging, which makes for an interesting experience. It is probably not intended for the faint-of-heart Catholic, but many a recovering Catholic may enjoy wholeheartedly.
Having been a (frequently reluctant) product of Roman Catholic education, from first grade through college, I had my share of “Sister Marys” along the way. The worst was Sister Mary Laurentia, who terrorized us first-graders with threats of putting us through the “grinding machine” (actually the school’s boiler room) if we misbehaved and who punished students caught talking in class by Scotch-taping their mouths shut and sitting them in front of the classroom like so many pint-sized Hannibal Lecters. To me, Durang’s play feels more like a documentary expose than a satire. (Honestly, it’s like some kid wore a wire during one of those classes I endured, and this play was the transcript.) But, of course, it’s also savagely funn — Durang’s ear for the sort of sociopathic, hypocritically “Catholic” screed coming out of nuns like Sister Mary is uncannily on-the-money and comes across as absurd as something Ionesco might have concocted.
Photos by Johannes Markus
- Sister Mary Ignatius: Cam Magee
- Thomas: Colin Trinity
- Gary Sullavan: D. Grant Cloyd
- Diane Symonds: Tiffany Garfinkle
- Philomena Rostovich: Anne Nottage
- Aloysius Bussicio: Arturo Tolentino
- Director: Joe Banno
- Stage Manager: Baron Pugh
- Scenic Design: Steven Royal
- Master Carpenter: Arthur Brill
- Lighting Design: Trina Weiss-Null and Nathan Wunderlich
- Sound Design: Ed Moser
- Costume Design: Cheryl Patton-Wu
- Properties Design: Kevin Laughon
- Fight Coach: Casey Kaleba
- Wardrobe Mistress: Pamela Osborne
- Publicist: Emily Morrison
- Production Photography: Johannes Markus
- Program Design and Cover Art: Michael Sherman
- House Manager: Joli Provost
Disclaimer: American Century Theater provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8183.
Rachael Murray is an actor, director, and teaching artist. She is a Virginia Tech alumnus with a Bachelor's of Arts in English and Theatre Arts. A relative newcomer to the DC Metro area, Rachael has participated as both an actor and director in a variety of projects at Virginia Tech and has worked as a teaching artist with Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, New York.