Review: Sister Mary’s a Dyke?! (Cahoots Theatre)

Sister Mary

Toronto’s Cahoots Theatre explores the queer and the religious with Sister Mary’s a Dyke?!

Sister Mary’s a Dyke?!, produced by Cahoots Theatre, had its start in life as a monologue for a youth arts program, and unfortunately it still feels like that a lot of the time. There is, however, a strong thread running through about a quarter of the show that has the potential to become a queer camp classic. Playwright and performer Flerida Peña is still quite young so there’s hope for it.

It’s a one act play and for the first forty minutes or so Peña’s character, Abby, a fourteen-year-old at an all-girls’ Catholic school who is starting to recognize her burgeoning lesbianism, wrestles with questions that are pretty played out for an adult with even the remotest knowledge of the issues of religion vs homosexuality. Granted my knowledge is far from remote, but there are all sorts of straight and/or sheltered people who still have access to news sources and know that the Catholic Church condemns homosexuality while it shelters child-molesting priests. The realization of this hypocrisy of this is a big turning point for Abby, and while it is understandable for that to happen to a fourteen-year-old, it was a little tiresome for a jaded thirty-something atheist dyke like myself.

That’s one specific example of the general thrust of the first half of the play. Abby talks to Jesus a lot, which is the conceit that powers the one-woman-showness of it, but it also deprives the audience of seeing her face most of the time, as she looks up into the light that represents the son of the Christian god. This was exacerbated by the fact that the most common area for the Jesus light to appear was off on the end of a stage set up in profile/traverse (audience on two sides.)

Once Abby figures it all out and decides that the J-man in the sky must be cool with her making out with her new girlfriend El, then things get interesting. It turns out that El is part of a secret society of lesbian guerillas, headed by the schoolmistress Sister Mary, who are planning to infiltrate the Vatican, and Abby is promptly recruited to join them. The switch from an overly earnest coming out story to a campy fantasy adventure story seemed disjointed, but I was very pleased with the new plot and action.

Peña does some wonderful physical comedy, particularly in a section involving a tent, but this madcap scheme deserves a script that does away with all the navel-gazing that precedes the fun, and a full cast. Abby describes the interpersonal dynamics of her falling out with El when she is appointed to team leader by Sister Mary, and her ensuing new relationship with another of the guerillas named Gabby, but I wanted to watch those frictions play out onstage between characters instead of just hearing about it. Likewise, the whimsical methods of camouflage and subterfuge required to get into the depths of the Vatican would have been hilarious if done by the team that was supposed to be there instead of just one person.

I found the very end to be anticlimactic as well. After all the adventuring we are told that their plan worked, and then it is just Abby talking to Jesus about her life again.

So while there was only a portion of the show that I liked, I feel that portion could itself make an amazing play if that plot were focused on, with the comedy emphasized, and with a cast of four or five.