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Longer One-Act Plays

Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You

(approximately 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes)

Though technically a one act play, Sister Mary is listed with the full length plays because it’s sometimes performed alone.  

The Story: Click here for play information

Cast: 3 women, 2 men, 1 child (boy)
Rights: Dramatists Play Services

Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You

Elizabeth Franz as Sister Mary
(Ensemble Studio Theatre)

photo by Charles Marinaro

The Actor's Nightmare

The Actor's Nightmare

(approximately 30 minutes)

Conceived as a companion piece to the author's award-winning short play Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You (and providing for doubling by the same actors), this hilarious spoof details the plight of a stranger who is suddenly pushed on stage to replace an ailing actor.

Production History

The Actor’s Nightmare was first presented by Playwrights Horizons in New York City on a double bill with Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You on October 14, 1981. The production was directed by Jerry Zaks; set design by Karen Schulz; costume design by William Ivey Long; lighting design by Paul Gallo; sound design by Aural Fixation; production stage manager was Esther Cohen.


Jeff Brooks as George Spelvin, Polly Draper as Meg, Elizabeth Franz as Sarah Siddons, Mary Catherine Wright as Ellen Terry, Timothy Landfield as Henry Irving

Note: When double-cast with Sister Mary Ignatius, the actor who plays George also plays Aloysius; Meg plays Diane; Sarah Siddons plays Sister Mary; Ellen Terry plays Philomena; and Henry Irving plays Gary.

The Story

This play was inspired by the well known dream that many people in professional and amateur theatre have, that they go must perform in a play that they have inexplicably never been to rehearsals for, and for which they know neither the lines or the plot.

So in this play George is an accountant who wanders onto an empty stage, not certain where he is or how he got there.  The stage manager informs him he’s the understudy, and must go on in a few minutes.  George doesn’t know his name, doesn’t think he’s an actor (“I think I’m an accountant”), and has no idea what play he’s supposed to do.

He’s pushed onstage dressed as Hamlet, and finds himself opposite a glamorous actress who seemingly is in Noel Coward’s Private Lives. George does his best to guess the lines, and guess appropriate behavior, but then the actress leaves, and suddenly a new actor comes in, spouting Shakespearean verse (from Hamlet).  This is much harder to guess, and after a while George is left alone and must improvise his own Shakespearean soliloquy.

In the closing sections, George finds himself thrust into a Samuel Beckett play (a combination of Waiting for Godot and Endgame), which he has very little knowledge of. And then suddenly he’s Sir Thomas More in the historical drama A Man for All Seasons, facing a beheading for opposing Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boylen – and alarmingly the executioner seems more real than he should.

Book title: Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All For You and The Actor's Nightmare.

Cast: 3 women, 2 men
Rights: Dramatists Play Services

Right: Publicity shot of director Jerry Zaks and author Durang in the Beckett garbage cans, taken during previews October 1981.

The Actor's Nightmare by Christopher Durang
The Actor's Nightmare by Christopher Durang

Left: The original cast of The Actor’s Nightmare: Elizabeth Franz, Jeff Brooks (seated as George), Timothy Landfield, Polly Draper, and Mary Catherine Wright in the garbage can.

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