Bad Habits
Review by Willard Manus

Who knew? Who knew that Catholic nuns and bishops could behave so badly, cracking wise about the church, telling dirty jokes, singing bawdy songs, and sneaking shots of whiskey?

Maybe these things don’t truly happen in life, but they surely do in BAD HABITS, Steve Mazur’s new play, which is now running at the Ruskin.
As directed by Mike Reilly, BAD HABITS (pun intended) mostly takes place in the convent of the Sisters of St. Cyril in Philadelphia, where four nuns (Lee Garlington, Mouchette van Heldsdingen, Jacqueline Lorraine Schofield and Jacquelynne Fontaine) are getting ready to put on the church’s annual Christmas pageant. An irreverent, cynical, foul-mouthed bunch, they are convinced that the pageant will be St. Cyril’s swan-song–-and they’re not exactly sorry about it. The convent is poor, in bad repair, and they are fed up with the antics of the brats they teach at the next-door elementary school.
Shocked by their behavior is the Mother Superior (Alley Mills), who is fighting hard to keep St. Cyril’s afloat. She thinks it will be saved if the bishop (Orson Bean) can be persuaded to co-sign a ban loan.

Problem is, the bishop, who is more stand-up comic than dedicated ecclesiastic, would just as soon see the convent fail so that he can replace it with a glitzy cathedral. When not cracking jokes, he lays out all the reasons why he won’t co-sign, though he does agree to attend the school pageant (where he intends to tell many more jokes, of course).

BAD HABITS takes a new turn when a young girl suddenly shows up on the night of a terrible storm. Maria (Kelsey Griswold) is not only rain-drenched but extremely distraught, hysterical really. She passes out but after being tended to by the nuns, she recovers and starts babbling about the visions she’s seeing. Not only that, she begins to show signs of the stigmata, marks resembling the crucifixion wounds of Jesus. The nuns think she’s a nut-case and poke fun at her, but the Mother Superior sees Maria as a kind of bread-ticket. If they can prove that a miracle is taking place at the convent, the bishop might just decide to save it.

While this sub-plot is being worked out, the nuns continue with their preparations for the pageant. This involves rehearsing their young charges in such a manner that the audience becomes the kids. Bossed around, teased unmercifully, made to come on stage and sing Christmas carols, we onlookers suddenly became a part of the play, with oft-hilarious results.

Equally funny was the resolution of the Mary–-pardon me, Maria–-story with its mock-religious overtones. BAD HABITS may strain credulity at times, but without question it is one comical, laugh-filled play.

My hat goes off to the playwright, director and cast–-especially to Alley Mills and Orson Bean. Unlike most Hollywood stars, they happily appear in Equity-waiver productions when they can, working for a tenth of what they can earn in films and TV. They do this out of a deep love for theatre and theatre-goers.

(Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica. Call 310-397-3244 or visit