Thoughts & Musings

Theater Review: Heavenly ‘Catholic School Girls at 2nd Story Theatre

Bottom line, the show is a charmer.

by Channing Gray, Providence Journal
  • 11th April 201611/04/16
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The Catholic Church has been a favorite topic of playwrights looking for a good laugh. And Casey Kurtti’s “Catholic School Girls,” now playing 2nd Story Theatre, is pretty funny. But it’s also got a lot of heart, and a stinging undercurrent of the harshness of life that keeps it from being farce.

All you have to do is sit through Erin Olson’s heartrending monologue about getting her first period and being humiliated by her teacher to know that this is a very human look at four middle-school students wrestling with more than the existence of God.

And then there was Valerie Westgate’s Elizabeth, who questioned everything. She was the one who kept insisting Jesus was Jewish and never getting an answer.

And the expert direction of Ed Shea gave us the real sense of an adult cast seeming like adolescents.

There are just four women in the cast, who take turns being naive middle schoolers just learning about sex, boys and the challenges of growing up, and playing the part of ruler-slapping nuns who spend their time laying down the law, but not giving very convincing answers as to why.

Olson was the cruel, impatient nun, Ashley Hunter Kenner the somewhat dotty one bordering on dementia.

And in that sense, between the knowing laughs from audience members who endured parochial school, there was a true touch of humanity.

I’ve not encountered Kenner before, and she was terrific. But the rest of the cast is assembled from some of 2nd Story’s top female actors, people like Lara Hakeem, who told of an abusive father and difficult home life, and Westgate, the independent thinker who dealt with serious questions of doubt.

“Catholic School Girls” is playing in the smaller, intimate downstairs theater, which makes you feel like your sitting at the head of the class, right in the middle of scolding sisters and bewildered students trying to figure it all out and make sure they get into Catholic high school.

Max Ponticelli came up with a simple but effective set, with just four desks and a black brick wall where the sisters stand and lay down the law.

The show is set in the 1960s, with references to the JFK and the apostate Beatles. There’s even a nifty talent show when the girls do a knockout a cappella rendition The Supreme’s “Stop in the Name of Love.”

Bottom line, the show is a charmer. And you don’t have to be Catholic to enjoy it, especially since Jesus was Jewish.

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