High, which closed Sunday after a brief run, seemed to be a well-acted, clumsily staged writing assignment. Author Matthew Lombardo would have been given the prompt, “a troubled nun counsels a troubled teen watched over by a troubled priest.” It’s not that it wanted for laugh-out-loud lines, or, even more rarely, insight into the three characters, but at the heart was a cliche that hung over the material.
Kathleen Turner as Sister Jamison Connelly was the backbone as well as the limbs of the show, slipping into the skin of the tough, foul-mouthed nun. She curses, refuses to be submissive in the face of Father Delpapp’s authority, and has an extremely high success rate with rehabilitating the addicts that come to her for counseling. While she commands the stage flinging fucks and well timed insults around, there are breaks in her character that are jarring, though they speak more to the script than the actress.
When she first sits down with Cody, a heroin addict Father Delpapp (Stephen Kunken) insists she treat though his problems (he was discovered with a younger teen who had fatally ODed) are far greater than their normal clientele, she begins the session with her blunt, no-nonsense ways.
Yet when he opens up about his horrific childhood, raised by a junkie prostitute mother and repeatedly raped by one of her clients, she seems overly shaken for someone in her field, obviously horrified and emotional in a way someone who had never seen so much as a Law and Order episode would become.
Another scene features a relapsed Cody running into her room, stripping, and charging her. She’s visibly terrified, and then, seconds later, with no noticeable change in dynamic, the fearful woman is completely replaced with the hard-ass who’s not amused by Cody’s antics.
Evan Jonigkeit, who plays Cody is extremely energetic and jump as he growls responses to Sister’s questions and seems like he’s been watching movies about drug attacks for years. His performance is earnest but seems too safe and measured for such a volatile character.
Sister Connelly’s aforementioned “troubled past” is revealed early on, as she unapologetically informs Cody she was a former alcoholic. Still a question hangs in the air, and the audience expects an explanation of what drove her to drink. Unfortunately the mystery felt more like predictability than suspense; you don’t unload all the skeletons before intermission.
When the secret comes out in one of Turner’s monologues (by far the strongest moment of the show, well acted and beautifully backlit by a million star-like pinpricks of light) it is the one truly shocking moment of the night. A sharp intake of breath from the audience could be heard as clearly as anything the actress said.
High ended abruptly, leaving so many of the questions it raised unanswered. It deserved more of a run, but it also called for a few more edits before it was brought to the stage.