Full Length Plays
Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You
Ensemble Studio Theatre Production
Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You was first presented off-off Broadway by the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City on a bill with one act plays by David Mamet, Marsha Norman, and Tennessee Williams on December 14, 1979. The production was directed by Jerry Zaks, set design by Brian Martin, light design by Marie Louise-Moreto, costume design by Madeline Cohen. The cast was:
Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You was presented off-Broadway by Playwrights Horizons in New York City, this time on a double bill with Durang’s The Actor’s Nightmare, on October 14, 1981. The production was directed by Jerry Zaks, set design by Karen Schulz, costume design by Willaim Ivey Long, lighting design by Paul Gallo, sound design by Aural Fixation, production stage manager was Esther Cohen. The cast (which doubled in The Actor’s Nightmare) was:
The Playwrights Horizons production subsequently moved with the same cast to an open off-Broadway run at the Westside Arts Theatre, where it played until January 29, 1984.
During this run of Actor’s and Sister Mary, many actors took over the roles.
Thomas was played by Guy-Paris Thompson, Evan Sandman, Damon Dukakis, Vaughan Sandman, Timmy Geissler.
photo by Susan
Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You is actually a long one act, but it is sometimes performed by itself, which is why it is being included in the Full Length Play section. Also, it was more than usually significant in Durang’s career and “feels” full length in its impact. Durang was raised as a Catholic, and went to Catholic schools for grammar school and high school. And he wrote this satiric play, looking back somewhat amazed at the complexity of the dogma he was taught as a child.
Sister Mary was on the 10 best lists of the New York Times, the New York Post, and Time Magazine, and received almost universally glowing reviews.
Only a writer of real talent can write an angry play that remains funny and controlled even in its most savage moments.
"Sister Mary Ignatius" confirms that Christopher Durang is just such a writer. [His] most consistently clever and deeply felt work yet. It has the sting of a revenge drama, even as it rides waves of demonic laughter. Ms. Franz is brilliant. After her real – and insane – personality is revealed, she still remains all too frighteningly
is one of the most ferociously funny young American dramatists, and Sister
Mary is his most ferociously funny
The object of his lacerating laughter is the Roman Catholic Church
as educator. …the figure of Sister Mary accumulates a terrifying comic
power as her moral certainty reaches a climax of insanely logical
Jerry Zaks’s direction gives color and nuance to the play, and
Elizabeth Franz’s performance is nothing short of devastating.
The classic treatment of this theme is Joyce’s A Portrait of
the Artist as a Young Man, where
despite his resisting of Jesuit hellfire pedagogy young Stephen Dedalus is
accused by a friend of being “supersaturated with the religion in which
you say you disbelieve.”
What gives Durang’s play its ultimate kick is the sense that
Sister Mary’s belief is stronger in its visionary mania than the ravaged
rationalisms that oppose it.
Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You" is
a hysterically funny, bitter, anguished, out-of-control moral comedy that
stands as a rebuke to all “bad taste humor” which refuses to
acknowledge the implications of its attacks.
Durang reveals himself to be as angry as Lenny Bruce and nearly as
incisive: he has, for the first time, dared to let the laughs drop for
part of his play in order to make his audience squirm.
It is one of those grand moments when an unbridled talent finally
shows what he is capable of doing. …If the Ensemble Studio Theatre’s
second round of Invitational short
plays had done nothing more than bring this extraordinary work to life, it
would be justification enough.
is a manic imagination possessed by Christopher Durang that makes him the
jolliest maverick of the younger American playwrights. …[Sister
Mary] struck me as the best piece of
Durang’s writing I’ve seen to date…
The acting throughout is fine – I was particularly taken by Jeff
Brooks as the beleagured and confounded Hamlet [in the curtain raiser The
Elizabeth Franz was marvelous as the acid-souled Sister Mary Ignatius, and
an ingratiating child actor, Mark Stefan, as Sister Mary’s youthful
The plays…are a joy and deserve to become a hit of the season.
Sister Mary Ignatius is giving a lecture. She points to drawings of the earth, moon and sun. Then she points to drawings of heaven, hell and purgatory. And also Limbo, where unbaptized babies are sent. She explains, sometimes with impatience, about the Immaculate Conception (“which is NOT to be confused with the virgin birth!”); she tells us what sins
send you to hell (“murder, sex outside marriage, highjacking a plane, masturbation”); and she is assisted by her sweet and obedient student, Thomas, age seven. On cue Thomas recites answers to catechism questions and is rewarded with cookies. Sister also takes questions from the audience (“Why is St. Christopher no longer a saint, and did anyone listen to the prayers I prayed to him before they decided he didn’t exist?”), and tells disturbing and mysterious stories of her family background.
photo by Susan Cook
photo by Charles Marinaro
photo by Charles Marinaro
| Timothy Landfield, Polly Draper
Mark Stefan, Elizabeth Franz
Gregory Grove, Ann McDonough
In the 1980s this was one of Durang’s most popular plays. The truth of this play is very much tied to the time in which it was written. Though much of the Catholic Church’s dogma (especially as regards sexuality) has remained the same, the manner of teaching in Catholic schools has changed, as well as its monolithic nature. The teaching and dogma that the play satirizes was true in the 1950s and
1960s and part of the 1970s, but changed after that. Plus
some of Sister Mary Ignatius’ character is based on her irritation at
the liberal Ecumenical Council and how it had changed the Church she
grew up in. She thus needs
to be placed in time so that she would have been a nun for a fairly long
time throughout the 1950s (and even late 40s?) so that she could have
grown to love the old-fashioned, stricter Church that the Ecumenical
Council challenged and tried to change.