BENEDETTA CARLINI -- LESBIAN NUN OF RENAISSANCE ITALY! written and directed by Rosemary Rowe, with Rebecca Benson, Julia Gray, Melissa Haller, Simon Heath, Suzanne Ranson and Deanna Yerichuk. Presented by Squeeze-Box Theatre at Khrome (920 Eastern). Runs to December 9, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $15, stu/srs $12.50. 416-535-5569. Rating: NN
the title alone is the season's most intriguing. Too bad the show doesn't measure up to it.Rosemary Rowe's play is based on a historical figure, a 17th-century nun who communed directly with Christ, underwent spiritual ordeals and enjoyed great respect until her relationship with another nun came to light.
The playwright has paired Benedetta's story with that of Clare, a university student obsessed with Benedetta. Clare pays more attention to the nun than to Gwen, a fellow student who has the hots for Clare and wants her to acknowledge what Gwen sees as Clare's unspoken queer desires.
A lot of the contemporary material is played for heavy-handed laughs, and it includes some dire -- and not funny -- episodes of interpretive dance and the students' prof encouraging their relationship. Things are much better back in 1620s Italy, where sensuality and drama infuse the story of Benedetta and her sister nun Bartolomea, a tale that comes to light as much for political as for moral reasons. The patriarchal Church didn't want an ordinary person -- and a woman, yet -- interceding directly with the divine.
As director, Rowe pushes most of the modern story and performances over the top and fails to integrate the serious and comic modes. She'd have done better to stay with the tone of the Benedetta story, in which Julia Gray turns the abbess into a figure of dignity and intensity. There's some charm in Suzanne Ranson's uncertain and innocent Clare. The pair figure prominently in the play's best scene, in which Rowe brings the two worlds together: Benedetta welcomes Clare as a postulant into the order of nuns? dykes? The ambiguity is intentional and intriguing, and it's presented with an honesty and directness that much of the show unfortunately lacks.