Imagination is a wonderful thing. If you close your eyes as you listen to this sound you might be able to imagine yourself on a train headed to some distant destination. Perhaps it would be a town or place you’ve always wanted to but never got to visit. It could be an adventuresome outward journey or a simple inward trip home. On playwright Emily Ball Cicchini’s train, it is 1946 and a recently demob’d WAC lieutenant wandering back to the states through India meets a young nun traveling to a TB clinic. The train noises shift to include a radio and in the background Winston Churchill is talking about the prospects for a wonderful world of cooperative peace.
The WAC is Madalyn Murray O’Hair who went on to be a hated figure in her fight against prayer in the schools and to found Atheists, Inc. The nun is Sister Terese who went on to become the revered religious and political figure Mother Teresa. Danielle Bruce was a real feisty spark plug as the rough hewn and street wise Madalyn. Lori Garraghty did a fine job in the difficult role of the shy and diffident nun. Playwright Cicchini has a real feel for these two characters. The dialogue between them is witty, thought provoking and frequently very funny. Mostly at Madalyn’s instance the two get into a number of amusing scrapes. At one point Madalyn spends the night cavorting at a British officers’ club and Terese spends hers washing dishes at a Buddhist monastery.
In the second act, it is 1995. Madalyn and Mother Teresa meet in China at a UN conference on women. Mother Teresa is a revered world leader. Madalyn has won her battle on prayer in the schools, but she’s on the run from an embezzlement scandal and the forces that did lead to her disappearance. The two women are older and now it is Terese who counsels and supports Madalyn. Aging in a play can be dreadfully stereotypical. I’m happy to say that Bruce and Garraghty manage it nicely. The fight hasn’t gone out of Madalyn. Terese is more secure in her own beliefs, but also more generous and understanding. The conversation is once again thoughtful, energetic and if less funny than in the first act, still spiced with humor.
Though both Mays and Terese can be didactic, playwright Emily Ball Cicchini and her play never is. Scot Greenwell’s skillful direction has focused on realizing the characters. "Mays and Terese" is a rich portrait of a clash between two interesting and nicely written and acted characters. It almost makes me wish that it really happened.
Emily Ball Cicchini’s play "Mays and Terese" plays at the Bloomington Playwrights Project Thursday, Friday and Saturday at eight and Sunday at two through March ninth.