‘The Convent’ Explores Spirituality Through A Comic Lens

March 28, 2023



L-R Dekyi Rongé & Chynna Fry. Courtesy of Ankh Productions. Used with permission.

Ever since Summit Performance of Indianapolis was founded in 2017, the women-focused theatre company has consistently presented work featuring spectacular performances, and “The Convent,” seen Friday, was no exception. Written by Jessica Dickey, the dramedy was proficiently directed by Summit’s artistic director and founder Lauren Briggeman, one of Indy’s finest actors and was presented in the Frank and Katrina Basile Theatre, the intimate black box venue at the Phoenix Theatre Cultural Center.

Joelene Mentink Moffatt – Courtesy of Ankh Productions, Used with permission.

Set in a medieval convent in the south of France, the story centers on six modern women of differing backgrounds who gather for a spiritual retreat created by the Mother Abbess (Jolene Mentink Moffatt) to copy the lifestyle of nuns who lived in the Middle Ages, which included wearing habits and adhering to strict rules and discipline. These were environments free of men, and places where “women cannot follow men.” Instead, they found their own identities through inner exploration. Arriving one by one, the strangers include Jill (Maria Argentina Souza), a frustrated lawyer fleeing from a bad marriage; Tina (Shawnté P. Gaston), a wisecracking 30-something grieving her mother’s death; Wilma (Miki Mathioudakis), who yearns to pray again; devoted Englander, Dimlin (Carrie Ann Schlatter); Bertie (Chynna Fry), a naif brought up in a cult; and Patti (Dekyi Rongé), a retreat returnee who arrives with hostility and attitude to spare.

Each of the contemporary pilgrims in Dickey’s funny and often clever script are assigned medieval avatars, such as Theresa of Ávila, Clare of Assisi, and Hildegard von Bingen as they work to reclaim the selves they feel they have lost. Engaging in exercises which include book reports on their mystic avatars and statements of their wishes, which are often hilarious, throughout the weeklong event, the proceedings resemble a TV reality show. Featuring archetypal characters and predictable plot situations, “The Convent,” though provocative, is weighed down by clichés and melodrama.

Shawnté P. Gaston – Courtesy of Ankh Productions. Used with permission.

A classic example of actors overcoming and making the best of the uneven material they are assigned, the artists in this Summit production, nevertheless, turn in fine performances. Standouts include Moffatt, whose exceptional body of work I have admired for years, as the stern, yet nurturing Mother Abbess; veteran Miki Mathioudakis, who effectively delivers some of Dickey’s most meaningful dialogue during quieter moments in the play; Gaston who elicited the most laughter with her character’s sassy one-liners; and Chicago-based actor Rongé, showing nuance and multidimensional acumen in her portrayal of the group’s most angry and alienated truth seeker.

More than a mere PR gimmick, the all-woman creative team displayed exceptional design talent and execution through Mara Ishihara Zinky’s set, Brittany Kugler’s costumes, Laura E. Glover’s lighting, Caitlin Cafiero’s sound and composition, and Molly Dykstra’s props.

Even though the mission of Summit Performance is to highlight issues and topics that are crucial to women, that does not mean that men, including yours truly, cannot benefit from exposure to ideas, such as those expressed in “The Covent,” regarding spirituality, sexuality, and enlightenment.

On a personal note, throughout the play, I couldn’t help but recall the life lessons I learned from nuns representing the Sisters of St. Francis religious order who taught me in grade school and the Sisters of Providence who were my high school teachers. Though I rebelled against the rigid discipline these selfless, dedicated women demanded during my formative years, their intellectual and spiritual influence on me was and is still deeply profound, and I credit them for any and all success I have enjoyed.

“The Convent” continues through April 9. For tickets and information visit phoenixtheatre.org


photo: Josh Humble

About Tom

Journalist, producer, director, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, arts administrator, TV contributor, actor, model, writer and lyricist, Tom Alvarez has had an extensive career in media and the fine arts and continues to be an enthusiastic and devoted fan of both. His passion and unique background grant him insight, access and perspective to cover, promote and review the arts in Indianapolis, Central Indiana and beyond. Follow him on social media @tomalvarezartswriter and @tomalvarez1.

Alvarez has been writing about theatre, dance, music, cinema and visual arts for 40 years. His work has appeared in the Indianapolis Star, NUVO, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana, Unite Magazine, Dance Magazine, NOTE Magazine, and Examiner.com, among many other print and online platforms. A former contributor to Across Indiana on WFYI-TV, he currently has a regular performing arts segment on WISH-TV’s Life. Style. Live!

A principal of Klein & Alvarez Productions, LLC, Alvarez co-created “Calder, The Musical” and is the managing director of Magic Thread Cabaret. As an actor-model, he has appeared in numerous TV and print ads and is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

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