On the night of her 70something birthday, Regina (Sandra Lafferty) has decided that this will be her last night on earth. She has just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Incurable and pain-ridden, she sips morphine steadily and inconspicuously so her hurried adult daughter Kate (Heidi Mages) does not notice. She feigns special interest in the episode of Jeopardy! and avoids direct questions about the gift of earrings Kate has brought her, just long enough for her daughter to be called away. Only then can Regina get down to the real at hand business.
Regina must “cancel the paper… finish the crossword puzzle… clean the bathroom.” More than half a dozen things need to happen this night. Only then will she be ready. However Regina’s final and most difficult task will be finding the courage to take her own life. Being a good Catholic girl at heart, Regina knows full well that taking her own life is automatic, everlasting damnation. As she struggles with the idea of burning in hell for all eternity, her desire to shift off this mortal coil begins to win her over.
After a small panic at not being able to remember the Rosary prayer, Regina slips into a reminiscence of her winning moment as homecoming queen. It’s a rich, happy memory, until Regina’s Homecoming Queen Self steps out of her remembrance and begins campaigning for their lives. Queeny (Kimberly Atkinson) is not ready to go anywhere, regardless of what 70something Regina wants.
Queeny’s appearance seems to create a conduit for other people from Regina’s past to step beyond her memories, to touch and interact with her. Regina is confronted with The Child (Megan McNulty) she aborted as a young woman, The Photographer (Ian Vogt) she had the affair with; all her sins revisited incarnate.
Ironically, is it a Dead Pope (Paul Strolli) in which Regina finds solace. While doing the conga with Regina, his Deceased Holiness explains that the Catholic Church is unrivaled it its propaganda and as such has cleverly buried a loophole in the whole Everlasting fixing “His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter” scenario. He, the Pope, cannot grant her absolution for committing suicide, but she can forgive herself.
Well, that changes everything. This new knowledge gives Regina confidence to move forward in her plan to off herself. But Queeny is still putting up a fight. What’s more, Regina realizes that the sin she is about to commit is just the beginning. She must also forgive herself for the sins in her past. That part proves to be more difficult.
The wit in this piece is razor sharp and bittersweet. The play between the performers was an exquisite ballet of language and emotions. Drifting pleasantly between present and memory, Lafferty and Atkinson have wonderful moments of synchronicity, finishing each other’s sentences, solidifying that they are indeed the same person, at two different moments in time, but still one voice, one mind.
With the exception of a few lighting miscues, I thoroughly enjoyed this production. Confessions is preceded by a long line of “memory lane” plays, but this did not feel like the typical stroll. The production exudes a candor and vitality that is refreshing given the subject matter. The production also maintained an introspective quality that made it easy to move from the real world to the mind and back again. The performances were so organic; Regina relives memories that are raw, passionate, messy, and unbridled, often without the benefit of hindsight to make the reliving of it any easier.
At this play’s conclusion, I was not left with warm fuzzies; nor was I left feeling weepy. But rather, I was left with an intense feeling of satisfaction. Contentment. I can’t think of a better place to be at the end of a good play. Or a good life.
Confessions of a Catholic Child makes it World premiere on the eleventh anniversary of its first stage reading with the Virtual Theater Project, “an international theater company committed to identifying, developing and staging new work.”
Confessions of a Catholic Child runs now through September 23, 2007.
Thursday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday @ 8pm
Tickets are $25
Deaf West Theatre
5112 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA
For info and tickets call: 323-663-0112
(Please note this is not a hearing-impaired production)