Playwright Christopher Durang’s sanctimonious Sister Mary Ignatius has been explaining her theological doctrine to audiences around the world for well over two decades now. But if this tragicomic concoction of cruelty, Catholicism and childhood revenge fantasy christened “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You” was once a controversial satire on the psychological scars inflicted on impressionable youth by tyrannical nuns, then by today’s standards Durang’s dated irreverence makes the piece resemble a tame and whiny theatrical therapy session at best. So it’s all the more surprising that Oracle Productions, a theatre troupe capable of incorporating effective multimedia into even the most intimate of small ensemble dramas, has curiously opted for a straightforward and visually unmemorable presentation. The production thus hinges on actress Maggie Speer in the title role, and although she lands one or two of Sister Mary’s cruel cajoleries with great aplomb, there is little that registers between her sweet and sinister extremes. In comparison, “An Actor’s Nightmare,” Durang’s absurdist tale of a nerdy accountant who finds himself as an actor forced to perform roles he has never rehearsed, boasts Oracle’s trademark stamp of deft theatricality and gorgeous cinematography. Smoke-filled images, striking spotlights, eerie organ music and video footage integrated smoothly into the action to resemble a cinematic scene dissolve give George’s hilarious predicament (a performance of sweet befuddlement courtesy of Aaron DeYoung) a hauntingly atmospheric, dreamlike and evanescent feel. It’s a more elusive interpretation, but it also makes the piece feel fresh and universal, precisely the qualities missing from its companion piece and the evening as a whole. I think someone besides Sister Mary has some explaining to do. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway, (773)244-2980. Thu-Sat 8pm/Sun 7pm. $10-$20. Through Sep 17.