Rating: 3 Stars
Synopsis: This Off-Broadway Play is a satirical recollection of attending Catholic School in the 1960’s. Four actors each play two roles, one as a student and one as a nun. It explores the challenges and expectations set for Catholic School students as they grow from first grade through eighth grade.
Reflection: Catholic School Girls is a play by Casey Kurtti. I picked it up at a used bookstore because I attended Catholic School from kindergarten through eighth grade and thought it would contain funny commentary that any Catholic School attendant could relate to.
Based in the 1960s, the elements of Catholic School are more harsh and dramatic than what I experienced in the late 1990s early 2000s, but nonetheless it was relatable. Some similarities include how the youngest children fully embrace the words of the parents and teachers as truth and are fearful of what will happen if they sin. Sin and following God’s rules were the classroom management techniques. “Keep room for the Holy Ghost” lives on in every Catholic School dance. Finally, as students age, questioning the faith and rebellion become the center of the school. This in particular is true for the girls in the play.
Despite the comedy, several things upset while reading the play and made me dissatisfied with my religion. The Sisters’ treatment of their students was often cruel and vicious; it was certainly not conducive to learning, growth, or self confidence. For example, Sister Mary Thomasina and Sister Mary Lucille insult the children with personal attacks on their intelligence, character, and family. Another thing that left me disgruntled, but could unfortunately relate to was the students’ inability to ask questions. While some of my experience allowed questions, there were some teachers you didn’t ask and some questions you never let out in fear of getting in trouble. For Elizabeth, Wanda, Collen, and Maria Theresa, questions were ignored or caused them to be isolated, judged, and disciplined. In Catholic School Girls, students asked almost no questions and were berated if they did. This refusal to consider and discuss question of youth, is in my opinion one of the greatest causes of weakened faith, more so than the practices or religious doctrines.
Kurtti sets Catholic School Girls up with a simple cast: four actress with two roles each – a student and a sister. Their shifts from student to sister happen fluidly as a scene takes place. Initially, I thought the girls would play an older nun version of themselves, but that is not the case. Instead it appears as though the girls are remembering the sisters and how they treated their students. If it is based on memory that may explain some of the extreme behaviors seen in the sisters. Each girl also receives the chance to monologue in the play. These monologues give insight into their background and their Catholic believes. The choice of a simple cast allows the characters to develop and create intrigue.
As Catholic School Girls by Casey Kurtti reminisces and satirizes attending Catholic School in the 1960s, it exposes problems that still exist and gives any Catholic School student a laugh. While religion is important, if it does not allow questions and treat its followers with respect, it is doomed to lose some along the way.