Bleak House

‘The Marriage of Bette and Boo'

It seems safe to say that playwright Christopher Durang is no fan of the Catholic Church. But where would his plays be without it? Who but a cradle Catholic schooled before Vatican II could marry the sublime and the ridiculous as gleefully as Durang does in his dark comedies? Take, for example, the scene from Laughing Wild in which the Infant of Prague appears as a guest on an afternoon talk show. Dressed in the ornate robes and imperial crown of Christ triumphant, the “Infant” serenely explicates church teaching on sexual morality. His host objects that this scheme sounds highly impractical. “The divine is impractical,” the Infant replies. “That’s why it’s divine.”

Against the anarchy and absurdity that reign in Durang’s plays, religion proves a less-than-mighty bulwark. Durang’s most notorious—and funniest—assault on Catholicism is his 1981 Off-Broadway smash, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You, a one-act styled as a course in the Baltimore Catechism. Sister Mary, the tyrannical teaching nun of legend, is bent on saving her students’ souls, even if she has to kill their spirits (or bodies) in the process. She has no patience for fuzzy notions of love, service,...

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About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.