It’s time for another foray into experimental stagecraft by Theater Undreground in Richmond, IL, and this show may be their most challenging to date. Not that they haven’t done some edgy work in the past – like Huffs (& Stuffs) or Not What You Expected. This one, though, doesn’t have the built-in audience of local comedian Kelsie Huff’s work — and the first show, Friday night, was more lightly attended than normal.
I can’t be sure if that’s because of the season, the weather, or the perceived nature of the show (“Sister Mary…” has a controversial reputation), but I can tell you that it’s no reflection on the quality of the work. As usual, Theater Undreground (TUG) turns in an entertaining and well-staged performance.
The show starts with “The Actor’s Nightmare,” a surreal and… well… nightmarish piece — and anyone who’s ever taken the stage will recognize its roots. The main “actor” is played sympathetically by TUG regular Tim Mosbach, who confronts a bewildering array of characters and situations. The rest of the cast — some TUG regulars, others first-timers — add to the chaos; some are very naturalistic in their portrayals, others deliberately mannered. It’s an interesting choice to use clashing acting styles, but it works fairly well, given the content.
After the intermission comes “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You,” a look at a Catholic “schoolroom” and the pious nun who runs it. As in the first play, the story is by turns funny, dramatic, ironic, and frightening. Sister Mary is played with gusto by first-time lead Kelly Waterman. It’s often difficult to believe she’s not a real nun. TUG regular Katelin Stack turns in a powerful performance as Diane, a student now grown up (and Mary). Also of note is the work of young John Baker, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Macaulay Culkin. The rest of the cast are good as well.
The direction of both plays, by regular David Baker and first-timer Anne Dowd-Fisher (who also acts in “Actor’s…”), is solid – even masterful at times, though some scenes felt a bit long (an issue, I think, with the scripts — both by Christopher Durang). “Sister Mary…” tackles issues of Catholic dogma, belief, and history in a way that resonates eerily with today’s scandals — though it was written decades ago. But don’t let that content put you off. This play is very entertaining.
As always, Theater Undreground’s performances help support a local charity — in this case, the Pioneer Center for Human Services. Help them fill the seats for the rest of their shows and support their cause, too. You won’t regret it.
(Minor editorial corrections made the following morning when it wasn’t 3AM.) Hey, if you’re still reading this, scroll down (or page back) and read/watch my Writing Secrets entry, too!