New York cabarets have tried diversifying their entertainment in recent years, putting on plays in addition to the usual music and comedy acts. The results have been mixed, since the small stages in these clubs often lead to clumsy staging and the material leans toward campy and unpolished. SourceWorks Theatre's production of Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You was a thoroughly enjoyable exception, however. This revival of Christopher Durang's 1981 Obie winner fit neatly on the Duplex stage and was high quality all around. The cabaret itself was looking spiffy after a renovation that included new carpeting and seating.
Previous productions of Sister Mary Ignatius have been picketed and sometimes canceled because of the play's anti-Catholic humor. The show is definitely not for people who are sensitive about Christianity or not amused by black comedy. It owes its success to the legions of survived Catholic school alumni and others who find Catholic dogma to be, in the least, illogical. Durang lampoons the church and its teachings in his typically outrageous and hilarious manner.
Obie nominee Geraldine Librandi portrayed Sister Mary Ignatius, whose lecture on--what else?--sin and redemption is interrupted by four former students, intent on avenging what they consider a misguided education. Sister Mary is horrified to learn that one of them is homosexual, another is an unwed mother, and another has had two abortions. She's not too distressed, however, about the one who is a suicidal, wife-battering alcoholic, because he did marry and be fruitful and multiply.
Jack Garrity, Jennifer Jenkins, Tracey Stroock and Michael Harley were fine as the former students, and 10-year-old Ricky Panson was delightful as an obedient current student. Except for an eloquent and touching monologue for Stroock, though, the ex-students' roles are not too demanding, especially with the limited movement allowed on the small stage. The play was dominated by Librandi, who masterfully affected the unwavering self-righteousness masked by a benevolent facade that seems a job requirement for nuns. Librandi kept her cool no matter how persuasively her authority was challenged. Sister Mary conveniently evades the question of why God allows evil and casually turns the tables on the students who planned to turn the tables on her.
Fast-moving and irreverent, Sister Mary Ignatius is good material for the cabaret venue. This production set a standard for cabarets that wish to offer ``real theatre.'' The play is fun but well-written, and the technical aspects were scaled down without detracting from the show.
(Technical director, Liz Shapiro, costumes, Michael Schloegl, Renee M. Latulippe, onstage art, Ron Peaslee.)
Copyright 1996 Adrienne Onofri
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