SISTER MARY’S A DYKE?! by Flerida Peña (Cahoots). At the Aki Studio Theatre, Daniels Spectrum (585 Dundas East). Runs to June 16, Tuesday-Sunday 8 pm, matinee Saturday-Sunday 2 pm. Pwyc-$25. 1-800-204-0855. Rating: NNN
Ever think about wreaking havoc on the rigid patriarchy of the Vatican?
That's the aim of playwright/performer Flerida Peña in her energetic solo show Sister Mary's A Dyke?!, which blends a queer coming-out story with a plan to reshape the Catholic world as we know it.
Abby (Peña), a pious 14-year-old from Mississauga, has just started attending Crown of Thorns Academy, an all-girls' school in Rosedale whose goings-on she sometimes finds surprising and strange, notably the behaviour of the other young women at the school. Overhearing another student talking about the proliferation of sports teams and saying that Crown of Thorns has "fulfilled every athletic lesbian stereotype," Abby wonders about the reference to athletes who live on the Greek island of Lesbos.
Talk about innocent.
When she realizes that she has similar sexual and emotional impulses, Abby does her best to account and allow for them in the context of church teachings.
We follow Abby's journey from naive schoolgirl to determined powerhouse through her prayers to and one-way conversations with Christ. At one point, when she shares a hug with fellow student Elle, she and Christ "avoid" each other for three days. She later asks him if she can kiss Elle and then do penance by recites a number of Hail Marys.
Woven into Abby's own story are the plans of school head Sister Mary, who has a scheme involving Abby and other students that concerns the newly resigned Pope Benedict and the selection of the next head of the Catholic church.
It's here that the narrative spins into a sometimes thrilling fantasy world featuring Joan of Arc, military boots and paratroopers.
Peña is still a young artist, and while she has a welcome energy as Abby, both the writing and the performance are uneven. At times in the first half Abby seems too unaware of what's happening around her; surely a light bulb would have gone on earlier. Maybe because of this overly extended realization of the queer world around her, Peña offers a stronger performance as a commando than as a wide-eyed teen.
Still, she couldn't be better guided than by director Nina Lee Aquino, who uses every inch of the boulevard staging - the audience sits on either side of the action - to present Abby's growth into an irrepressible dyke. The director lightly underlines Abby's anger here and there and has also given the final few minutes an unexpectedly sweet touch.
Camellia Koo's simple, effective set involves church pews, books and a pup tent that Aquino puts to numerous uses. Michelle Ramsay's sometimes celestial lighting conjures up church windows and cloistered rooms, shifting effectively from places of prayer to locations for military planning, echoed in Michelle Bensimon's sound design.