A recovering alcoholic nun in mufti, Sister Jamison talks tough, swears a lot and can out-wrestle anyone foolish enough to take her on.
As played by Kathleen Turner on Broadway in “High,” she could be country kin to the femmes fatales she played in noir films like “Body Heat” and “Prizzi’s Honor.”
When Father Delpapp consigns a crank-addled gay hustler to her care, Sister Jamison is suspicious. She’s the go-to counselor for tough cases at the suburban rehab center the priest runs. But those cases tend to be 19th-hole tipplers.
When she asks her new charge, Cody Randall, what drugs he’s done, she has to stop him mid-sentence to rephrase the question: “Whoa, maybe we should list the drugs you haven’t tried.”
Each of the three characters in Matthew Lombardo’s play carries a secret that will be revealed in painful detail before the curtain falls.
None of them makes any more sense than the character of Sister Jamison herself: She talks the talk of a woman on intimate terms with street life, substance abuse and various sins of the flesh. But she recoils in horror at the unpleasant details of Cody’s history. What street was she living on, Rodeo Drive?
In front of a backdrop of stars twinkling in a midnight sky, she soliloquizes about St. Augustine, her prettier, younger, smarter sister, and the tattooed boy at the bowling alley who will change both their lives.
You don’t need to hear every word of every speech to get the gist. That’s a good thing, because diction is not one of Turner’s strong points; nor is the natural flow of language. She tends to break sentences up into actorish phrases to suggest deeper significance.
Lombardo, a recovering addict, has written an imitation of a play, and not a very good one. Kunken is petulant as Father Delpapp. Jonigkeit plays Cody with such incoherent gruffness suggesting he never gave up dope long enough even to get into the center. Under Rob Ruggiero’s overwrought direction, “High” plays more like an early workshop than a polished Broadway production.
And this is yet another show with background music, by Vincent Olivieri, that is determined to add ponderousness to every moment not already given over to it by the writing.
At the Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St. Information: +1-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com Rating: *
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Very Good ** Average * Not So Good (No stars) Avoid
(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)