In The Beheading of Sister Mary Jasmine, the audience forms an intimate bond with a deceased nun. Simply by attending the performance, they become one of the many grieving. In a room that very much resembles a church and funeral home, there are real votive candles that you can light with real matches, a real kneeler, and a coffin. Even the chairs, while not pews, had the same high-backed and uncomfortable consistency.
If you go up to the coffin before the service (performance) begins proper, you will notice that there is no body in there, but there’s a good reason for this. Sister was, as the title gives away, beheaded in a freak accident. The funeral director, one of several people embodied by Brian Reynolds, tells us that there’s been a mix up at the morgue, and thus Sister Mary Jasmine’s body cannot be properly displayed. But as he would probably say, the wake must go on.
It’s hard to talk about this as a performance because it was so immersive. I don’t feel like I went to a play; I went to a wake. I even read a eulogy. Probably realizing how potentially uncomfortable this enforced realism of death and mourning could be for his audience, Reynolds peppers this service with many humorous moments, not unlike the real ways we break the tension in these situations. From a feisty and slightly horny priest to a grown-up Cub Scout, Reynolds populates this world with sweetly comical characters who help shed light on the deceased. A plot even sneaks its way in, and despite the short length of time Reynolds has to develop it, a complete arc is had.
Though this experience will not be for everyone, particularly for people who do not like being part of the show, The Beheading of Sister Mary Jasmine is certainly one of the more unique solo performances being produced at Capital Fringe this year.
The Beheading of Sister Mary Jasmine plays through July 28, 2013 at the Emergence Community Arts Collective – 733 Euclid Street NW, in Washington DC. For performance information and to purchase tickets, go to their Capital Fringe page.