Reviews - Fringe 2016

Sister Annunciata's Secret

By Amos Crawley
Published July 18, 2016

It is so easy for a certain set in our modern lifestyle to forget what a huge part of daily life the church once was - particularly, the persistent and guilt-inducing dogma of the Holy Roman Catholic church.

We are now more than ever fully aware of the cover-ups, hypocrisies and scandals associated with Rome and the institutional disasters fostered by papists. In an era of 24 hour news coverage it's easy to forget the personal pain associated with being raised within the walls of the church, especially should one choose to enter a convent, as our Narrator in Sister Annunciata's Secret does.

I assume that Ms Griffin's choice to set the play in another time is partially due to the fact that the Catholic faith (as well as other faiths) held more day-to-day in yesteryear. Placing the action of her one woman show in post-Depression Montreal lets us understand that joining the nunnery was a commonplace choice for a woman of a certain class.

It also allows Ms Griffin to have some fun with old world discoveries such as seeing her first film and being shocked at the relative size of newfangled undergarments as opposed to the bloomers one would wear under a habit.

This is a rich territory for commentary. As our program suggests, we are going to be engaged in a discussion about Sin, Love, Penance, Chastity, Fear, Salvation and other heavy duty subject matter. Our lead character Rose even chooses the name Annunciata, from the Italian for announcement, an allusion to the Annunciation - we are in for a story of epic proportions.

More the shame, then, that the execution does not live up to the premise. Too many ideas are introduced out of nowhere with apparent symbolic meaning, but no elucidation as to what those meanings might be.

The pacing of the show feels very odd, with whiplash changes of time and place followed by long digressions that do not move the plot forward. It can be hard to keep track of exactly where we are in this one-woman piece when the only delineation between characters is an adoption of accent that tends to waver the longer any given scene continues.

On the whole, we have a choppy evening where the inciting incident is held in secrecy until the final moments of the play and, when it is revealed, inadvertently raises some very troubling questions about who exactly we should be rooting for. The centrepiece of the script is a relationship in which only one character has a voice - it's a cover-up in and of itself.

There's so much promise in the premise of Sister Annunciata's Secret, and in a talk-back after the show, Mr. Stewart-Jones and Ms Griffin teased a version that gives full voice to all the characters. Perhaps in that version we get a more fully rounded theatrical world.

Amos Crawley is an actor, director and acting instructor who lives in East Hamilton with his wife, actor and director Cadence Allen, and their young son.

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