Three hard-working nuns at their convent look up and discover that the sky is falling…
It could be the start of a joke, or a New Yorker cartoon. But it was the opening scene in “The Collision and What Came After, or, Gunch!”, a play presented with Two Headed Rep’s “The Martyrdom” at 59E59 Theatre. Despite the comic potential of this setting, these works, inspired by the work of a 10th-century nun and playwright Hrotvitha of Gandersheimnot funny nor – at two hours and 40 minutes – as nimble as they could be.
In “The Collision,” written by Nadja Leonhard-Hooper, patient Gudrun (Emma Ramos) and stern Anise (Lizzie Fox) try to teach young sister Gunch (Layla Khoshnoudi) the responsibility of an ideal nun. : housework. , pray, copy the Bible by hand – you know, everyday stuff. But Gunch is talkative, blunt, and curious about more than just God. “All nature is low and vile and touches itself,” she said with lustful amazement, recounting the time she watched one goat climb onto another.
When a giant meteorite lands near the monastery, the abbot follows the path of the Wicked Witch of the East and Gunch suffers a fatal blow and she miraculously survives. The event forces the characters to reconsider the faith lessons they have been taught – which messages are prophetic and which are heretical, and why.
The script has a few delicately written passages, for example, when Gudrun describes “gray black clouds” gathering “as if trying to tie the sky together like a wound.” The performers have some standout moments, too: Halima Henderson, who plays a couple of supporting characters, is a little priceless as a messenger that fails to capture the social cues. And Khoshnoudi, with her dreamy eyes and devilish smile, could have her own play, her own TV series, in fact, as the delightfully peculiar Gunch.
As for the story itself, it is very interesting, although its ending is not always clear; Lily Riopelle’s tutorial, which combines physical humor and playful props (a severed hand, a dead pigeon and a chicken called “little queen”, set by Liz Oakley design), often read as amateur. While the play takes a lot of the punch from twisting and turning stories, pulling the story into the realm of science fiction and absurdism, the script fails to successfully execute the final move. of it, a clear criticism of institutional religion and a grand statement of storytelling.
“A story is a snake, and we are the rats inside it, swallowed whole but still alive,” one character says. That sentiment can be applied to this play, which devours its characters – and some narrative logic – in its strange twists and turns.
If “The Collision” is more enamored with its quirks than with cohesive storytelling, “The Martyrdom” is its antithesis, a play so procedural that it leaves very little space time for the strange and the wonderful.
After a hiatus, the four actresses return for this second play, whose full title is so long that reading it requires its own interruption: “Martyrdom of the Holy Virgin Agape, Chionia and Irena, by Hrotvitha the Nun of Gandersheim, as Told Throughout the Last Millennium by Men, Women, Scholars, Athletes, Puppet and Theater Companies (Like This One) Who Loves Her, or : Dulcitius. ”
“The Martyrdom”, directed by Molly Clifford, based on Hrotvitha’s play “Dulcitius”, is about three pious sisters who try to stay clean despite the intentions of lewd politicians. “Dulcitius” appears throughout the course of “The Martyrdom”, although in different fragments and in different forms.
With a translation by Lizzie Fox and new text by Amanda Keating, “The Martyrdom” is a history lesson, honoring the legacy of Hrotvitha, who is considered the first female playwright to record her work, by way of providing a timeline of the major incarnations of “Dulcitius.”
So the performance begins at a monastery during Hrotvitha’s life, where a council or monks evaluate the playwright’s work. Centuries later, Hungarian nuns wrote a modern, vernacular adaptation of “Dulcitius”. Then there are French artists who use sailboats to tell the story of the three sisters. Then there was a British campaigner in the 1800s, and an American nun at the University of Michigan in the 1950s. It was a smart move for such dated material: In each scene, The characters act out parts of the play, each version reflecting the changing context of the material over time. After each installment, a fourth groundbreaking educational moment occurs as the actresses provide further insight into Hrotvitha’s writing and its various productions.
Unfortunately, the result is colorless and, like “Collision”, unnecessarily long. “The Martyrdom” attempts to stretch scenes from Hrotvitha’s play throughout history to suit its structure, despite the fact that the play’s plot is already quite flawed, so there isn’t enough action. to rotate around.
It doesn’t help that Cate McCrea’s design for the small theater, which seats about 50 people, is rather bland: a simple back wall, a long rectangular bar bisecting the length of the stage, serving Serve as a table or desk or bench as needed.
Somewhere between “The Collision” and “The Martyrdom” lies a sacred land of oddity and structure, chaos and order, that would make even a 10th-century Saxon nun must say, “Amen.”
Collision / Martyrdom
Through February 5 at 59E59 Theaters, Manhattan; 59e59.org. Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/30/theater/the-collision-and-the-martyrdom-review.html Review of ‘The Collision’ and ‘The Martyrdom’: A Nun Ahead of Her