THEATER REVIEW: Two plays don’t add up to much entertainment

“Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You” and “The Actor’s Nightmare”/Hudson, Valatie, Catskill and Pittsfield

THIS EVENING OF TWO Christopher Durang one-acts has its best moment in the second of the plays when actor Lael Locke stands elegantly front and center in a brilliant red gown. The rest is pretty much down from there.

I saw the plays in the Hudson High School auditorium; but they are moved for the weekend of April 28 to the Valatie Community Theater. After that you will find them in Catskill (Brik Gallery) and in Pittsfield (Lichtenstein Gallery). See for details.

Over the years the role of Sister Mary (in “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You”) has been inhabited by many first-rate actresses, including Nancy Marchand, Cloris Leachman and Lynn Redgrave. (The printed program is unsure about “…for You” and “…to You”; but perhaps I quibble.)

In this production, Louise Pillai brings enormous energy and freedom to the character. Yet all considered, I find her defeated by direction and fellow actors who appear to be under the lights for the very first time. (They play the victims of–or wanderers from–Sister Mary’s teaching: an unmarried mother, a wife-beating alcoholic, a homosexual, and a rape victim who has aborted. Twice.)

It is the director’s job to fix the actor-problem, and director Steve Sanborn has not done so.

The piece first appeared in 1979. Back then, the mocking and bashing of Catholic dogma might have seemed quite daring and fresh. Nowadays the truth and humor of it seems too easy, too obvious and a bit tired–though the dogma lives on in a white helicopter headed toward the Vatican.

Some would-be censors have tried to ban the play from their towns. It is interesting that a few local churches here are supporting this production, perhaps interpreting the script as a warning against pre-marital sex, alcoholism, wife-beating, abortion and homosexuality. (See what happens when you don’t mind the rules, children!) If so, I think they are mistaken. At least partially.

Violence suddenly interrupts the satire. (Gun violence, in this case.) Given the history of religions, perhaps violence should not be surprising, but it stuns–even these days when bomb-the-unbelievers and murder-the-abortion-doctors mentalities abound.

In “Sister Mary…” the religious education of Thomas, (a seven-year-old who spouts memorized doctrine and is repeatedly rewarded like Pavlov’s dog with a tasty morsel) still resonates. In this production, the child is played by an adorable Joshua Bay, whose voice and articulation, unfortunately, barely reach the second row of the cavernous Hudson High School Auditorium. (When the plays move to Valatie Community Theater, the venue may be more hospitable.)

The second play, “The Actor’s Nightmare,” will feel familiar to anyone who has ever performed on a stage; and the humor of it will always be enhanced by audience knowledge of the famous plays that are endlessly minced and mixed by an understudy struggling to figure out which one he is in!

Why is this evening less that it ought to be ?

Hints of actor-talent are smothered by shapeless direction, timing errors and perhaps a bit of type/age-inappropriate casting.

With this particular company, I also wondered if it had something to with the absence on stage of Constance Lopez, who usually provides a standard and a sort of dramatic glue to Two Of Us productions. (She is listed here as assistant director.)

Sanborn has, in the past, exhibited a nice feel for staging–manipulating groups and moving and placing actors in visually satisfying ways. But these plays require a different shaping skill–and perhaps different actors in some roles.

The Two Of Us is an ambitious little company that has mounted some nice productions. This is not one of them.




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