February 11, 2001


Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You
Lone Star

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning






















For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

For more information about Sister Mary and Lone Star, or the rest of the season at OTTC, please visit OTTC on the web.

aired on WFAE, February 16, 2001

The ambitious Off-Tryon Theatre Company takes on religion and small town ennui in two one act plays that make up its 5th and 6th productions. Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You, a racy and hilarious play written by Christopher Durang, will offend devout Catholics, vindicate ex-Catholics, and reinforce Catholic stereotypes for everyone else. Lone Star, by James McLure, features a rambling and revealing conversation between two drunk Texan brothers. OTTC operates in a tiny dark theatre on an industrial dead end in NODA. Funky and chic, in a scary back alley sort of a way, this is Charlotte's off off off Broadway.

Sister Mary Ignatius does indeed explain it all, patiently packaging the difficult innuendos of Catholicism into a square box, including definitions of purgatory, where you can be stuck for anywhere from 300 to 700 billion years, and limbo, where unbaptized babies were sent for eternity before the Ecumenical Council and Pope John XXIII rewrote theology. Her slippery grasp of biblical fact is superceded by her immutable understanding of God's intentions and the repercussions of unconfessed sin. Compared to Christ's three hours of agony on the cross, all other complaints are immaterial, a philosophy the Sister ingrained so successfully in her students that it created psychopaths and perverts, several who return to haunt her in the play's somewhat ridiculous conclusion.

While the script is brilliant in its grasp of the ironic inconsistencies between Catholic doctrine and practical reality, actress Dempsey's sporadic Irish brogue, and all too gentle demeanor failed to convince me she was the Sister Mary Ignatius who terrified children into obedience. Her comic timing was occasionally successful, but following a long theatrical tradition, her sidekick Thomas, played by eighth grader Andy Baird, upstaged her with his spunky performance as a seven year old student who answered the nun's catechism questions with the precision of an exacto knife. Baird's loopy, chipmunk-cheeked grin, and rabbit quick mannerism of reaching out a hand to receive a cookie from the nun after each correct response, stole the show.

A projected stained glass window image against a black wall, a lectern and two short pews provided a simple, yet convincing church, so intimate that the nun left stage and addressed the audience like we were on Oprah. An awesome camel costume and the imaginative use of a ceiling hook for a guest appearance by Jesus embody low budget creativity.

During intermission, a pile of garbage, a blue tarp, an array of junk food and a twelve pack of Lone Star beer transformed the stage into a backyard behind a bar in Maynard, Texas. The three character play Lone Star features "Vit" Nam Vet Roy, who has been celebrating his return from war by getting drunk every night for two years, his even dumber brother Ray, who didn't qualify for the war, and Ray's friend Cletis, whose intellect is fused together by polyester. According to Ray, life boils down to having a bunch of friends who are either married, shot their foot off, or live in Hugo, Oklahoma, and he doesn't know which is "worst." OTTC's managing director John Hartness plays Roy with a delicate balance of drunkenness, stupidity, and off handed wit. Justin Bitton captures the vacuous intellect of Ray so well it's surprising the character remains upright.

In Lone Star, Ray would sell his soul to hear a coyote, but beats up a guy because he drinks Pearl Beer. He loves his wife, his country and his car, and the play slowly exposes how he has been betrayed by each of them. Unpolished but fun, both performances provide a worthy alternative to the sophistication of downtown theater.

Lynn Trenning, February 11, 2001

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