There are two stories in playwright Flerida Peña’s Sister Mary’s a Dyke?! that, if combined, would have made for a more satisfying evening of theatre.
In the very long first half, we are served up a coming out story as 14 year old Abby grapples with reconciling her burgeoning realization that she is a lesbian with her Catholic upbringing. In a series of one-sided conversations with Jesus, the young Abby has more questions than any immediate answers, and while the slow discovery of who she is might ring true for a 14 year old, there is little new for the rest of us. And even while the story of a young Filipina Catholic’s coming out may be something that has not been seen on stage before, the ideas that the Catholic Church condemns homosexuality, is a patriarchy, and continues to protect its child molesting priests is old hat.
To be successful, especially in this first half, requires an actor who can turn Abby’s revelations into something compelling. And while you’ll no doubt hear the word charming used to describe Kim Villagante’s performance in this solo show, her delivery is a single note, with an uplift that makes every statement a question. That may be fine when she is actually questioning Jesus during her daily conversations about some of the things she is discovering, but there is little variation. It makes an already long first act seem even longer.
The second half of the show fares better as Abby discovers the true nature of the private Catholic school she attends. It turns out that the Crown of Thorns Academy is actually a front for a group of guerrilla lesbians, and Abby finds herself enlisted in a wild mission to infiltrate the Vatican and install one of the school’s nuns as the new pope. This second half is much more dynamic as Villagante embraces Peña’s fantasy world complete with lesbian boot camp, parachuting into Vatican City, and a trip through the sewers of the Holy See.
While there are moments of clever and fun staging in the second half of the play, director Jan Derbyshire has Villagante playing much of the action on the stage floor and was, at least from my vantage point, simply lost. Derbyshire doesn’t help the already long first half with scene changes that are required of Dana Ayotte’s interesting but fussy foldable set. While the stage hand dressed in a nun’s wimple is funny in their first couple of appearances, it gets tired very quickly.
With the second half of the show holding the most promise, its not a stretch to think that if Peña had combined the fantasy of act two with the reality of Abby’s coming out in act one, it would have made for a far more engaging story.
Sister Mary’s a Dyke?! by Flerida Peña. A co-presentation of the frank theatre company and the Queer Arts Festival. On stage at the Roundhouse Community Centre until August 2. Visit http://queerartsfestival.com for tickets and information.