Sisterís Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magiís Gold by Maripat Donovan. Directed by Mark Silvia.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
The infamous Sister Sherlock
"Letís put baby Jesus in the sleigh..."
Los Angeles produces funny things sometimes: "The Bride Came C.O.D." with Bette Davis and James Cagney, "One, Two, Three" with Arlene Francis and James Cagney, or "The West Point Story" with Doris Day and James Cagney. Now if you combine Davis, Francis and Day, bump off James Cagney but keep his timing and his attitude and infuse those things into your composite of "DaFranDay" and put her into a habit and wimple there you have the "Sister" who has taken up residence on the stage of the Colonial Theatre for a week of classes on the Virgin Mary and her place in society.
Frankly, you donít have to be Catholic to get a kick out of Sister. She gets down and dirty with her fellow R.C.s, criticizing their education and their devotional sensibilities, but itís all good fun and even the hardest, hardiest Catholics in the audience get a kick out her, if they donít get one from her.
For this is a nun with a calling, or a mission if you will. She wants to teach us all about Mary, her darling Mary, and about the gold presented to the baby Jesus that just disappears out of the story right then and there. Whoís got the gold? Thatís the slim plotline that invigorates the second act of "Sisterís Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magiís Gold" by playwright Maripat Donovan. Itís her fourth in the series of "Sister" plays and whether or not itís the funniest is a decision you have to make for yourself. But it is funny and that makes it a joy.
Mary Verdi and Bobby Sweet start off the evening with a Christmas Carol sing-a-long that not only gets the audience into a good and involved mood, but segues nicely into the play with Verdi returning in Act Two to aid in the Nativity pageant that Sister casts with. . .you! Yes, you may get to play a role in this very important recreation of the event, one that provides enough proof of the identity of the gold thief. Like me you may get the answer long before Sister does, but once she has her thesis proven, she is a woman triumphant.
Played by Jocelyn Wright she is a kinder Sister than we have seen before (last time around she was played by Lela Frechette). Wright has a musicality in her step and a rhythm in her soul as she proves by playing the angel who relieves Joseph of his misery. She fairly dances around her classroom as she engages her students in a bit of catechismic exercise. I was amazed at how many demi-semi-lapsed Catholics there were in the audience, but it seemed as though by the end of their association with Sister, they were pretty much back in the fold. This one-woman show ends up on a crowded stage and, unlike other one person plays where the actor/actress ends up playing thirty or forty parts, in this show those parts are filled by bodies...and souls - all in hilarious costumes designed by Catherine Evans.
The classroom production design is by Mark Silvia, who also directed the play. There is so much improvisation necessary that it would seem the direction here is confined to moments, but donít believe it. The entire character of the nun is so much a co-creation of author/actress/director that the miracle on Pittsfieldís South Street is that thereís only really one of her to deal with.
It isnít worth reading any further about this show. Itís just something you have to experience for yourself. Oh, and bring your camera. Pictures are encouraged!
Sisterís Christmas Catechism plays at the Colonial Theatre for eight performances ending on December 6. The theater is located at 111 South Street in Pittsfield. For information and tickets, call the box office at 413-997-4444.