St. Louis Stage Capsules

Dennis Brown and Paul Friswold suss out the local theater scene

Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You Christopher Durang's skewering of Catholicism would seemingly live and die on the strength of its title character, who alternately lectures and harangues the audience on the basics of the Church. Sister Mary Ignatius (Margeau Baue Steinau) is cheerful, enthusiastic and a little fuzzy on biblical matters, the type of nun who delights in sharing the bad news about the Good Book. Steinau leavens Sister Mary's love of misery with a subtle battiness; she's a flawed educator, but endearingly so. The show is riven by a similar contradiction. At the midpoint, four former students interrupt the teaching with a hilariously amateurish Christmas pageant, and the audience accepts it as farce. Each of those students then shares the failures of their adult lives — still funny, especially as Sister identifies their moments of human weakness as either venal or mortal sin, oblivious to the hurt she causes. But when Diane (Jenn Bock) shares her horrible recent past, she does so without a scintilla of humor (satirical, black or otherwise), and the show deflates into a bitter and mean-spirited puddle. Steinau and former pupil B. Weller do exemplary work to wrestle the show back into Durang's anarchic orbit, but the schism is too great. What began as a funny piece of irreverence now seems a sucker punch thrown either to shock (poorly) or antagonize the sort of audience member who protested the show almost 30 years ago. Presented by Stray Dog Theatre through December 19 at Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue. Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-865-1995 or www.straydogtheatre.org. (PF)

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