The happiest years

Catholic School Girls

By Casy Kurtti
Directed by Rebecca Kendall
Woman Seeking...
Center Stage NY
48 W. 21st St., 4th fl. (212/841-0326)
Equity showcase (closes Nov. 16)
Review by Seth Bisen-Hersh

Catholic School Girls originally premiered Off-Broadway in 1982. It was revived for a week by Woman Seeking..., a group dedicated to producing "high quality ensemble productions that showcase women in roles that make the audience laugh, cry and often question their beliefs and prejudices about gender roles and women's place in our society." This show fulfills their goals.

The play centers on four Catholic schoolgirls coming of age. It spans eight years of their lives, from the first day of first grade to the last day of eighth grade. They grow older over the episodic course of the show. The scenes generally take place in the classroom, where the mostly strict nuns chide and lecture sinisterly about sin. There are also moving monologues from each of the girls that delve more deeply into their lives. It is a well-written play that encourages an audience to laugh as well as cry.

Usually the play is done with only four women, each alternating as a nun. This production chose to have eight women instead. Thus, all four schoolgirls were present in every scene (although one conspicuously had very few lines throughout a given scene, depending on which nun she was supposed to portray -- however, the production did a good job at masking this because all four girls were in character and adlibbing incessantly). And there were even times when all eight of the characters are in tableaux, etc.

This double casting worked wonders. The eight women were spectacularly energetic, funny, and poignant. The four girls -- Kelli Lynn Harrison as the faith-fleeing Elizabeth, Cherelle Cargill as the bossy Collen, Elizabeth Bunnell as the spoiled Wanda, and Chelsea Silverman as the timid Maria Theresa -- were outstanding. They all shone in their monologs -- especially Harrison, who had three, all in very different tones.

The nuns, played by Ann Parker, Kathleen Bishop, Suzanne Barbetta, and Jamie Heilein, are magnificent, too. Bishop was deliciously vicious as Sister Mary Lucille. She commanded the stage, just and she commanded the girls. She would be truly scary to have as a teacher.

The show was directed ably by Rebecca Kendall. The staging took full advantage of the space and was always balanced. The minimal set, designed by Will Geisler, consisted of four chairs and a blackboard that were cleverly moved with each scene to demonstrate a new classroom. Every time the scene changed, music from the era is played.

Thus, Catholic School Girls was presented in a delightful production by a talented director with a very talented cast. Anyone who has ever questioned his or her faith would enjoy this show, as well as anyone who would like to know more about the inner workings of the Catholic school system.

  Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Seth Bisen-Hersh