“God created sex for the purpose of procreation, not recreation,” proclaims Sister Mary Ignatius to her former Catholic school students. The one-act play, “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You,” a Trumbull College Sudler production, written by Christopher Durang DRA ’74, is a religious satire that pokes fun at several Catholic doctrines.
Allison Goldberg ’06 transforms herself into a passionate nun with the sole desire to show others the “path to heaven.” The play starts off light-heartedly with a Catholicism 101 crash course. Among the subjects that Sister Mary touches on are limbo for unbaptized babies, the mandatory naming of children after saints, the use of contraception, the infallibility of the Pope and the Immaculate Conception versus the Virgin Birth. She even accepted questions from the audience.
One of the more humorous lessons that Sister Mary gives is on the two categories of sin — mortal sin and venial sin. Venial sins are less serious violations of God’s law, such as telling a small lie to one’s parents, or saying the Lord’s name in vain. These types of sins can be “worked out in purgatory.” Mortal sins, on the other hand, (murder, extra-marital sex, masturbation, the consumption of meat on Fridays, etc.) require a “good act of contrition” to avoid eternal damnation.
Thomas (Matt Schenker ’06) is Sister Mary’s newest protege. Thomas is vital to the plot for two reasons, the first being that he has turned seven-years-old, the age of reason according to Catholic doctrine. At age seven, a child is believed to be able to distinguish right from wrong. The show’s ending powerfully brings to light the absurdity of the notion that there exists a standard age at which a child becomes morally responsible. The second reason is that Thomas has memorized all of Sister Mary’s teachings and can recite any of the Ten Commandments on cue. It should be noted that Sister Mary bears the same name as Ignatius of Loyola, a saint who directed an order toward worldwide apostolate and the education of youth.
The action of the play picks up when four of Sister Mary’s former students, now full grown adults, arrive and perform a humorous grade-school skit summarizing Jesus Christ’s life, from his birth to his death and resurrection. A key phrase that Diane (Sarah Goff ’06), playing Jesus’s mother, says during the skit is, “I understand that I am not supposed to understand,” making reference to matters of faith. Ironically, this particular character is also the one who later reveals that she actually does not understand matters of faith, and in fact doubts God’s existence altogether. Her loss of faith stemmed from her mother’s long terminal battle with breast cancer. Since that time, Diane has had two abortions. Her first pregnancy, at age 18, resulted from a rape that occurred on the night of her mother’s death. The second time, she was seduced by her psychiatrist.
It turns out that all four students have come to voice their gripes about Sister Mary’s strict methods of discipline while she was their teacher. For example, poor Aloysius (Jamie Kirchick ’06) was never permitted to use the bathroom and would frequently wet his pants. And just as each former student states his or her concerns, Sister Mary articulates her own concerns about their anti-Catholic lifestyles. Philomena (Beth Mercurio ’06) has a child out of wedlock. When Sister Mary asks her if she is a prostitute, Philomena responds, “I’m certainly not–I just get lonely.” Gary (Alex Schwed ’06) is struggling with his sexuality, much to Sister Mary’s dismay, but she thinks Aloysius’ issues of alcoholism and wife-beatings are mere venial sins.
The play’s humor quickly darkens when Diane pulls out a gun and threatens to kill Sister Mary. Diane blames Sister Mary for instilling religion, which she now has disregarded, into her mind. The events that transpire in the final moments of the play will make the audience shiver. “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You” causes the viewer to reflect on what he or she believes and the foundations for those beliefs. The ending is a revelation of hypocrisy, manipulation, and brainwashing.
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