Being 11, Serendipity Theatre Company, at Victory Gardens Theater. It’s a vicious cycle: Catholic schoolchildren, scarred by years of indoctrination, go on to write shows like this mind-numbing exercise in parochial nostalgia. In the course of Courtney Shaughnessy’s flashback narrative we meet the avuncular janitor, queeny priest, and (of all things) fire-and-brimstone nun, as well as the held-back class pariah, tomboy bully, and silently scribbling protagonist. It’s all suspiciously familiar, yet supposedly somewhat autobiographical: the play occupies an unrewarding no-man’s-land between stock types and personal history.
Shaughnessy also paints her grotesques too gently, sugarcoating the peerless brutalities of seventh grader and authoritarian teacher alike. As the play progresses, its already esoteric milieu narrows precipitously, first to the deep-suburban experience, then to the subexperience of its newly fatherless hero. And there’s no plot to speak of beyond the random interactions of the largely two-dimensional personae. Striving for a Peanuts-like universality, the playwright comes up instead with something inaccessible and almost smug (“It’s interesting because it happened to me”).
Maddeningly–given these flaws–Shaughnessy exhibits an accomplished touch that suggests she’s capable of much better. Still more maddeningly, director Michael Matthews and a charming cast execute her misguided scheme to perfection; I’ve never seen such a vibrant bore. But at twice the length of your average service, with no intermission, it ultimately leaves you twice as eager to escape the church–er, theater–as your average 11-year-old would be.