So I thought I would share this because I just finished it for my playwriting class. We had to read the play, “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You”, and answer a prompt. I added in the YouTube videos if you want to watch the play yourself.
The author’s notes were incredibly helpful in attempting to decipher who Sister Mary actually is. While reading the play I painted her in a picture of my own bias and, while it didn’t really change my end opinion on the character, my visualization of her changed after reading it. I think that is one of the dangers of reading versus viewing a play. Reading a play, without the author’s interpretation, allows us to complete a character with our own assertions, especially if they are not a fully complete character. I don’t think that was the case with Sister Mary, but it was a lesson that was reinforced while reading that section.
My approach to this blog response was to read the question first and then read the play. I read with my head focused on selectivity, stereotype and dramatic action/reaction. Initially when I read the question, in relation to the title, I thought stereotype was going to be the big draw from the play. I don’t really see that as the case anymore, although it definitely is a factor. Selectivity was the big thing I really picked up on in regards to her character and Durang’s utilization of her. Sister Mary was selective with her interpretation of the Bible, Actions of humanity, and even her recollection of personal history to maintain control and order in her life. For Instance:
The cookie screamed stereotype to me. I woke up with it screaming at me (I read the play yesterday). I grew up receiving a catholic education which meant I would go to CCD (I still don’t know what the acronym means) after church when I was really young and after school when I was in middle school/early high school. The reason the cookie resonated with me is because they always had cookies and juice for us. Always. Without fail. There would always be some sort of snack there. Now, when your a little kid, what will get you to shut up, pay attention, and answer questions? The prospects of getting a freaking cookie. Now I’m not trying to build a catholic cookie indoctrination conspiracy (I am – just wanted to write that) but I think Durang might be using that as a stereotype. If Thomas is going to get a cookie every time he answers a question, isn’t he going to have (or develop) a predisposition to favor what Sister Mary wants him to answer? YES! He is. She uses the cookie to reinforce her own beliefs (at one point she asks Thomas to get her a cookie) and awards the group of four cookies after they put on the play (another instance of reinforcing good behavior). Durang good have easily traveled into areas of Stereotype that were concerning (Like the bit with the painting) but I think, in relation to the cookie,it was a smart usage of stereotype. It was identifiable and, in a sense, satirical.
The play definitely builds to a climax, that is without a doubt. I don’t think anything happens really suddenly, it is compacted with each person Sister Mary speaks with. With each startling revelation the adult characters give her she fires back with a dramatic gun of her own (metaphorically and then very literally). That serve and return aspect of the plot structure really heighten all the action in the play.
One more thing about character, and it is something I thought a lot about yesterdaya, is why doesn’t Diane just walk on stage, shoot her, and walk off. Diane says she wants Sister Mary to apologize for everything she told her, but what satisfaction could she really get from that? It won’t bring her mother back, It won’t lighten the memory of her rape, It won’t change the fact that she is most likely going to jail for killing her shrink. While she says she wanted satisfaction, part of me thinks she was repenting in a sense. Like she wanted Sister Mary to say it would be alright and turn into this miraculous figure that her life needed. If she really thought she was crazy and a disservice to everyone she was teaching, why not just off her from the first step
The thing that is even more interesting is how Sister Mary reacts to her. It’s perfectly in character with Sister Mary and perfectly out of character with our perception of religion (which is probably why it makes it a notable dramatic work). We expect her to comfort Diane in that moment of extreme circumstance, utter some sort of plan-derived cliche and talk her down. But nope. She whips out a gun and shoots her when she is looking at something else. Where is the morality in that? Where are the good ethical qualities in that? It’s almost as if she views herself as the god figure she preached about throughout the entirety of the play. And while that is an interesting thought, I don’t think there is enough detail to go on trying to prove it.