Wait, haven’t we seen this one? The staid Catholic school, the lost boy, and the lively young nun-to-be who rocks everyone’s world, reaches the boy, and upsets Mother Whoever.
But Tom Dudzick’s “Hail, Mary!” aspires to be more than the standard singing nun set piece. We suspect that will be the case when we note Dudzick’s success with the wonderful “Miracle on South Division Street,” presented at Stage Door a couple of years ago. Clearly this is a playwright who is as comfortable with God-talk as snappy stage repartee.
The first act of Stage Door’s “Hail, Mary!” is the comedy we expect. Mary is a creature of spontaneity. When she heard a voice (“My own!”) she responded to the call to religious work. But her passion turns out to be teaching and reaching children, helping them think about God on their own terms. Blocking her path, however, is Sister Regina, who is more than a little uncomfortable with rocking the boat—even if it leads occasionally to walking on water.
Then there’s Joe, the old boyfriend who turns up at the moment of decision. Dudzick’s characters are credible, endearing, and sharply realized. But the play is really about the spiritual quest that plays out in the second act. Honest questions are asked, and easy answers are withheld. Why do religions (any religions) bring disunity rather than communion? Where is the balance between revered tradition and fresh creativity?
The strong performances of the cast held the audience through to the end. Stage Door newcomer Suzanne Zoller was wonderful as the novice, Mary. Zoller shows us Mary’s vibrancy but also gives us a window into her own personal struggle with the tough questions of life and how to live out her calling.
Breathing life into the formidable Sister Regina is Ann Wilson, who simmers near the boiling point over the new ideas of her young novice. Eliana Marianes shines as the young but slightly more experienced Sister Felicia.
Theo Harness returns to Stage Door as Father Stan, the aging priest who sees a spark in Mary he encourages to shine. Father Stan provides much of the comic relief for this production, a skill that comes quite naturally to Harness. Another newcomer to Stage Door is Jeff K Lester who portrays Joe, a man who is struggling with his own religious doubts in the face of the challenges of being a single parent. We hope to see more of both Zoller and Lester on the boards.
“Hail, Mary!” is directed by Dina Shadwell with technical assistance from J. D. Williams (Lighting Design), Chuck Welcome (Set Design/Scenic Artist), Jim Alford (Costume Design), Kathy Ellsworth (Properties Design), Rial Ellsworth (Sound Design), Hayley Brotherton (Production Manager), and Julie Skryzpek (Stage Manager).
Productions of “I Hate Hamlet” continue through April 17 with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays.
Tickets are $30 for adults, $27 for senior adults, $22 for students, and $15 for youth under 12 years and are available by contacting the Box Office at (770) 396-1726. Stage Door Players is located in the North DeKalb Cultural Arts Center at 5339 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, Dunwoody and on the Web at stagedoorplayers.net.