A Double Feature of two plays: An Actor’s Nightmare and Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You by Christopher Durang, the Tony Award-winning playwright (for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) is being performed by Chevy Chase Players Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm through April 19th.
Director Peter Chewning has assembled a scrappy cast who works well together trying to land every Durang barb and funny, irritating, and acerbic line. To be frank, I was a student who was taught by respectful and loving nuns who didn’t zap me with a ruler or degrade me, so it was difficult at times to sit and take it. Watching a nun take a beating from this not-so-happy playwright was quite a challenge. But I do have a sense of humor and I did appreciate the effort by everyone involved in the cast who gave very convincing and hard-working performances.
But before we talk about Sister Ignatius, let’s turn to an actor’s (or an accountant who is believed to be the understudy of an actor’s) ultimate nightmare. It’s Durang’s The Actor’s Nightmare-to be on the stage in front of an eager crowd and just forget your lines. I am a storyteller and don’t think this fear doesn’t cross my mind every time I perform, so I could empathize with this actor’s pain.
And things get really loony as Durang juxtaposes scraps of Noel Coward’s Private Lives, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and some of Samuel Beckett’s famous plays are fused into an alleged play called Checkmate, and a little bit of Beckett’s A Man For All Seasons. This poor man can’t get a straight answer from any of the other actors about what play he is in. How he keeps his sense of humor or any sanity is the real miracle of this short and frenetic play.
Kudos to Marlowe Vilchez, who is quite convincing as the highly anxious George Spelvin, but who is is game to play. Pamela Kasenetz is wonderful and funny as actress Sarah Siddons. Vilchez is divine as he falls to pieces as she plays the haughty Amanda from Private Lives. Vilchez and Kasenetz’s facial expressions and comedic timing are priceless. Sue Schaffel also gives a strong performance an Dame Ellen Terry. Michael Halpern looked strong and determined as the Executioner.
And now to the Holy Sister. In Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You. Sam David is divine as Sister Mary Ignatius. as she presents a roller coaster of emotions and personalities – Sybil in a habit. She brings out all the cruelty that Christopher Durang expects from her character. With that wielding ruler -Brown really measures up as a fine actress.
The roles of her grown up students are ably handled by Michael Halpern (Gary Sullavan), Sarah Hensley (Diane Symonds), Jennifer Berry (Philomena Rostovich), and Marlowe Vilchez (Aloysius Benheim), who come to perform a Christmas pageant where they reveal to the Sister the psychological scars her teaching have left in their lives. My favorite performance was delivered by Laura Zeifang who plays ten year-old boy Thomas, her side-kick. She delivers a standout performance using her sweet voice and angelic face to great advantage to successfully create the illusion.
And yes -there are the eventual confrontations and regrets and angry and loud verbal accusations with some lighter moments sprinkled in, and the fine cast is up to the challenge. But I don’t want to give it all away, so if this review shakes your rosary or you have a difficult time remembering your lines, buy tickets and come see the show(s).
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one intermission.
An Actor’s Nightmare and Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You plays through April 19, 201 at Chevy Chase Players performing at The Chevy Chase Community Center-5601 Connecticut Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them at the door. Tickets are $15.00 for adults and $13.00 for seniors and students. Cash only.