There is an element of sincerity which brings an irreplaceable strength to any show--when it’s missing, it is unmistakable. The Inconvenient Miracle, an original musical staged by the Skeleton Rep playing at the Episcopal Actors Guild through August 27, has that note of sincerity--along with a lot of fun and an excellent cast. It was written by Emily Claire Schmitt, Emily Rose Simons, and Ria T. Dilullo (who also directs). While the second half of the play could use some refinement, it is an excellent watch and comes highly recommended.
The story centers on a group of girls attending a Catholic school and their teacher, Sister Florence (Cecilia Vanti). Vanessa, the lead (played by Deijah Faulkner), does not believe in God, while Abigail (Samantha Streich) believes she is God’s prophet. When Abigail tells Vanessa she is the next Virgin Mary and will give birth to the Second Coming of Christ, Vanessa punches her in the face. The story is full of humor that demonstrates a depth of thought applied to questions of faith, and centering women’s experiences in a natural and effortless way (and hilarious--God’s prophecies coming with period cramps? amazing). This was not only fun to watch but genuinely compelling. What does it mean to have faith? What if God’s messenger is kind of a psycho? How does community play into this question, and is it okay for community to drive religiosity? Also…what about God?
The first half of the play set up these questions as part of a continually fun story about being in high school. The grand questions of life were interposed with the normality of teenage drama and school papers without feeling tropey. The music was catchy, the actors all leaned into and captured their characters perfectly. By intermission, I was enchanted--it was by far the most fun I’d had watching a play all year. As a bonus, I was also genuinely compelled by the way they were engaging with the concept of faith. Any spiritual movement has its quirks, but watching teenage girls develop a cult around one of their own (and--carrots?) kept me laughing as I thought about my own engagement with questions of faith and leadership. And having an actual miracle come was a twist that made every question feel new. What on earth would the girls do now?
The pacing on the second half didn’t feel quite as polished. Following an opening scene about abortion, the rest of the play felt a little clumsy as it resolved the various plot threads and tried to handle weighty topics. There were some genuinely powerful moments, such as Abigail’s vision with Sister Florence and Vanessa’s friend converting to become one of Abigail’s followers. But my biggest gripe came with the ending--instead of showing a natural completion of the questions it had raised earlier, the play decided to use the closing song as a laundry list of what comprises the good life. The questions raised by Vanessa, Trisha, and even the disciples (during an intellectual awakening that derailed a budding spiritual moment) went unresolved. I didn’t want the play to end with one answer about God, nor would I have been frustrated if it ended with another. But I wanted a conclusion for the characters who had asked them, and that resolution did not come fully. However, each of the character’s storylines were resolved well and I walked away with my head full of the music and the story. The Inconvenient Miracle was an uncomplicated happy miracle for its audience.
'The Inconvenient Miracle: A Mysterious Birth Musical,' runs August 11-27 at The Episcopal Actors Guild (1 East 29th Street). For more info and to purchase tickets, see the link below: