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The Actor’s Nightmare and Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You – Port City Playhouse

Jordan Wright
September 19, 2011
Special to The Alexandria Times


Port City Playhouse, a community theatre whose work has continually expressed challenging and innovative productions with a high level of complexity, has chosen two one-acts by American playwright Christopher Durang to open the new fall season.  From the company’s former home at Lee Center to a humble theatre at The Lab at Convergence in Alexandria, I have reviewed many of the group’s stellar performances that have often outshone some of the best, most elaborate stagings the area has to offer.  But unfortunately, these were not in the same league as their past successes.

In The Actor’s Nightmare, a comedic mash-up, snug in Durang’s absurdist niche, our erstwhile hero George is shuffled willy-nilly by his co-stars into various roles in various plays – from Noel Coward’s Private Lives to Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  George, a lowly accountant, shows up at the theatre and is mistaken for the play’s lead actor Edwin Booth, late for his curtain call.  The premise calls to mind the classic actor’s nightmare of forgetting what play he’s in, what lines to use, or what role he’s playing and in which production.  George who tries his best to wiggle out of the situation has his worst fears realized when numerous attempts to get his lines from the stage manager are ultimately abandoned and he begins to quote from every play he’s ever known, so the show can go on.

To his dismay, his leading lady forces his response.  “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is!” she declares repetitively quoting Noel Coward. But poor George’s desperation to find the appropriate line only mounts, and the audience’s hilarity rises in sync, as he recites adages, platitudes, soliloquies, Shakespearean plays, and ultimately the Pledge of Allegiance in an attempt to mollify her.

Ric Andersen (George), an oft-praised local performer, does a bang up job as the hapless Hamlet and erstwhile Elyot and manages to keep the laughs rolling along with Aimee Meher-Homji (Ellen Terry) and Larissa Norris (Meg).  Ignore the inferior production values if you can.

The twofer concludes with Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You which premiered off-Broadway in 1979 in fine company with plays by Tennessee Williams, David Mamet and Marsha Norman and later ran for many years in revivals.  Ground-breaking for its time, its current relevance seems dubious.  An informal poll reveals some Catholics identify with the issues and some don’t.  As a non-Catholic I could only speculate as to the validity of the horrors of Catholic school and that of some of the nuns.  Though I have certainly not been exempt to tales told out of school.

In any case Sister Mary Ignatius has it all figured out – heaven, hell, purgatory and limbo in living color, and if this strikes a chord with you than sign on for the ride along with The Good Shepherd.  The Sister, ably played by Amy Solo returning to the stage after a 29-year absence, punctuates her rigid precepts with her mini-me, little Thomas, who spouts the catechism like a faithful pup begging for treats, that she in fact doles out to him with each rote recitation.  Remy Bartell is a third-grader who bloody near steals the whole shebang with his spot on, gap-toothed portrayal of Thomas.  (Oh W.C. Fields where are you?  Fields knew kids and dogs would steal the spotlight and avoided them like the plague.)

When former students return for a reenactment of a school play, the Sister learns they are not the adoring children she reminisces about.  They are embittered, damaged by her Draconian methods, and looking for a face-off as she talks “of the utter randomness of life”.  The ending is so stunning I cannot reveal it except to say that it redeems the whole play.

Spirited acting and inferior staging make for an uneven experience.  But see it if only for the message that most in the audience clearly related to.

Port City Playhouse at The Lab at Convergence 1819 North Quaker Lane, Alexandria, VA 22302.  Through October 2nd, 2011.  For tickets and information visit

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