`Sister' and `Nightmare' is match almost made in heaven



She's a nun who's convinced that all prayers are answered, but "sometimes the answer to our prayer is no."

He's an accountant who finds himself acting in a play he's never rehearsed.

These are the respective protagonists of Christopher Durang's 1981 double bill of one-act plays - Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You and The Actor's Nightmare, receiving a serviceable revival at the Vagabond Players under Barry Bach's direction.

The plays are an interesting pairing. The nun thinks she knows everything; the accountant doesn't have a clue. She's super-confident; he's thoroughly insecure.

But Donald Cook, as the accountant, rarely seems frantic or frightened enough. He registers adequate bewilderment as his nebbishy character flounders about in scenes from Coward, Shakespeare and Beckett.

But he doesn't break into a sweat, even when stranded on stage alone, struggling to fill the time by reciting everything from Shakespeare to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Sister Mary, on the other hand, is always in control. Amy Jo Shapiro does a decent job conveying her character's unshakable certitude, whether wielding a wicked pointer or expressing regret that the church no longer saves the voices of boy sopranos by turning the tykes into castrati (as she patiently explains to adorable 7-year-old Seamus Woods, as her model pupil).

Durang's nun would be scarier still if her supposedly "caring" side were portrayed with as much fervor as her sadistic side. Shapiro, however, lets mean-spiritedness win out, draining some of the shock value from the ending. (The supporting actors earn praise for their comically kitschy human nativity scene, which includes a camel named "Misty," a Cabbage Patch Jesus and Velcro.)

In his latest play, Miss Witherspoon, Durang turns from Catholicism to Buddhism, stranding the deceased title character in a Tibetan way station called bardo. Like the befuddled accountant in Nightmare, Durang continues to look for answers on stage.

The Vagabonds' production may not be as manic - or maniacal - as the material itself, but it remains a guilty pleasure to watch this irreverent writer confront hypocrisy and fear by using sacred cows for target practice.

Show times at the Vagabonds, 806 S. Broadway, are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through April 2. Tickets are $15. Call 410-563-9135.

Shakespeare Theatre

Plays by Shakespeare and Ibsen, as well as a Restoration comedy adapted by Thornton Wilder and Washington playwright Ken Ludwig, will make up the 2006-2007 season at Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company.

The Restoration play, The Beaux' Stratagem, is a collaboration among three playwrights - two dead and one living. George Farquhar wrote the original text, a commentary on British society, in 1707. Thornton Wilder began adapting Farquhar's play in 1939, but never completed his adaptation. Now, Ludwig has finished Wilder's work. The adaptation will have its world premiere under Michael Kahn's direction Nov. 7-Dec. 31.

The season will open Aug. 29-Oct. 22 with Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, newly adapted by Nicholas Rudall and directed by Kjetil Bang-Hansen, former artistic director of Norway's Den Nationale Scene, where Ibsen was playwright-in-residence from 1851-1857.

The three Shakespeare plays will be part of the citywide, six-month 2007 Shakespeare in Washington festival. They are: Richard III (Jan. 16-March 18), starring Geraint Wyn Davies and directed by Kahn; Titus Andronicus (April 3-May 20), directed by Gale Edwards; and Hamlet (June 5-July 29), starring Jeffrey Carlson and directed by Kahn.

Subscriptions to the five-play season go on sale in April. For more information, call 877-487- 8849 or visit shakespearethea tre.org.

Playwrights festival

The Baltimore Playwrights Festival has scheduled the season's final two marathon sessions of staged readings of scripts under consideration for this summer's 25th annual festival.

Here's the lineup - Saturday: 11 a.m., Glacial Genes, by Molly Tinsley; 1 p.m., A Pleasant Place to Be, by Mardee Bennett; 2:45 p.m., The Miss Alice Plays, by Rich Espey; and 3:45 p.m., Willie Baby by Kimberley Lynne, Joe Dennison and Carol Weinberg; March 18: 11 a.m. The Silver Lining, by Marilyn Otis; 1 p.m., A Modern Pas de Deux, by Susan Middaugh; and 3 p.m., Exclamation Point, by Daniel C. Meyer.

All readings are free and take place at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St. For more information, call 410-276-2153.

Theater showcase

"The Play's the Thing ... ", the theater showcase at Artscape, has been broadened to include entrants from Delaware, Washington, northern Virginia and southern Pennsylvania. Applications are due March 17.

As in past years, productions are limited to 30 minutes to 50 minutes. Those selected will receive an honorarium of up to $1,000 and a performance slot at the Theatre Project during the festival, scheduled for July 21-23. For more information or an application, visit www.artscape.org or call 410-752-8632.


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