The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The play unfolds in a single setting: a simple stage containing a lectern, a potted palm, a few chairs, and an easel. Standing at the lectern and addressing her remarks directly to the audience, Sister Mary Ignatius, an old-fashioned nun and parochial-school teacher, begins a loosely structured lecture on Roman Catholic principles concerning the proper conduct of life and the ways in which such conduct will earn one eternal reward or punishment after death. Illustrating her points with drawings on the easel, she speaks first of the nature and purpose of the divinely ordained regions that lie beyond the physical universe—heaven, hell, purgatory, and limbo—and then of doctrinal matters, including the meaning of the Immaculate Conception and the question of papal infallibility. This monologue is not completely coherent, however, and Sister Mary Ignatius digresses frequently, weaving into her prepared remarks autobiographical reflections and abrupt requests for water and cookies. These requests are satisfied by Thomas, a second-grader at Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows School. The opening lecture concludes with a vivid description of Christ’s suffering on the Cross and a final digression, in this case involving bitter memories of her parents and her oppressive childhood.

In the play’s second scene, Sister Mary Ignatius answers questions on Roman Catholic theory and practice. Reading wide-ranging questions from file cards supposedly submitted to her by the audience, she responds in a variety of ways or not at all, depending on how the questions strike her. Asked, for example, whether nuns go to the bathroom and whether Jesus was effeminate, she answers tersely, “Yes.” On the other hand, she refuses to answer questions that call into doubt God’s goodness in view of the great suffering in the world and that ask her to detail the exact nature of the sins committed at Sodom. Her most detailed responses come when she is asked about situational ethics and about her own life. Her speeches on the former reveal a strict, morally simplistic, even outmoded, orthodoxy; on the latter, a nightmarish childhood spent with twenty-six siblings, an alcoholic and abusive father, and a mentally unstable mother. This...

(The entire section is 908 words.)