Theater

“Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All for You” is a comedic powerhouse

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“Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All for You” is a comedic powerhouse

I’ve been a huge Christopher Durang fan since college; his dark, twisted comedy and intelligent writing are a perfect fit for me. A chance to see his work at Berkshire Theatre Group was something I’d been looking forward to since it had been announced, and nothing about the production disappointed.

Since Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All for You and The Actor’s Nightmare are shorter works, they’re often performed together (they’re approximately 75 and 40 minutes long, respectively.) The Actor’s Nightmare is performed first here: an accountant (Matt Sullivan) finds himself on stage, having to perform in four shows he’s never rehearsed; the stage manager (Anna O’Donoghue) and other actors (Harriet Harris, Tom Story, Ariana Venturi) think he’s the understudy and refuse to let him leave. In Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All for You, Sister Mary (Harris), a Catholic school teacher, is giving a talk to the audience about religious topics when four of her prior students, now adults, come in; they say she invited them to show the audience a pageant, but they have ulterior motives. The same actors perform in both pieces, with young Levi Hall being the only cast member added for Sister Mary.

Director Matthew Penn, who has directed a number of prestigious television programs and theater productions, does a fine job with both shows; he’s directed Durang’s work before, and knows there’s a particular touch needed with his writing. Harris, whose work is always phenomenal, is brilliant in both pieces; her Sarah is the perfect over-the-top diva, and her Sister Mary is absolutely not to be missed. She’s both dark and light, cruel and kind, a sociopath with a sweet candy coating, and she’s amazing to watch. Sullivan is so relatable in the first piece – we all wanted to rescue him from the stage, I think! – and O’Donoghue has such a powerful monologue in Sister Mary that it must exhaust her every night to deliver it. Hall is adorable – the audience aww’d when he entered – and both Story and Venturi, although in smaller roles, have such excellent comedic timing. This entire cast works and plays beautifully together.

Both shows are comedic powerhouses; The Actor’s Nightmare in a more straightforward way, in the confusion of someone thrown into what would be a lot of people’s worst nightmare: being forced to act without knowing your lines, with all those eyes on you. It helps to have a bit of theater background for this one, to know what plays he’s being forced to perform, but not knowing is certainly not a deterrent. Sister Mary is a very dark comedy, and all the more hilarious for it; it takes every single swipe it can against the Catholic Church in such a subversive, horrible, awesome way. I love The Actor’s Nightmare, but I adore Sister Mary, and laughed to the point of tears. The show is selling out already, as it should be – get tickets as soon as you can, because you’re going to be heartbroken if you miss this one.

“Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All for You & The Actor’s Nightmare” Berkshire Theatre Group, 6 East St., Stockbridge, MA; through August 31; $56; Run time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; 413-997-4444; http://www.berkshiretheatregroup.org/

 

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