UPROARIOUS SOUTHERN COMEDY
MEMPHIS CHARACTER ACTOR READY FOR HIS CLOSE-UP, MR. DEMILLE
Memphis character actor Steve Swift is overdue a leap to prime time. Someone find this man a rich producer to send him and his alter ego, Sister Myotis, on a national tour. This town just isn’t big enough for the outlandish Southern-fried grande dame he has created to save our wayward souls.
His imposing church lady has returned to the TheatreWorks stage under the mantle of Voices of the South, bearing a new chapter in the gospel according to Myotis.
In “Sister Myotis’ Church Retreat,” the audience joins the deaconess and her two dutiful assistants, Sister Velma Needlemeyer (Todd Berry) and Sister Ima Lone (Jenny Odle Madden), for a new-member meeting of the women’s auxiliary.
Because of a scheduling conflict, however, the assembly is forced to convene in the bomb shelter of her 80,000-member megachurch. During the surprise five- day lock-in, Myotis tells the captive audience that she’ll cover all the bases of good Christian housewifery, from coping with toenail fungus to dealing with children, “a.k.a. God’s little challenges.”
The thought of being trapped for a week with a zealous autocrat won’t faze Swift’s local cult following. His lighthearted lampooning of church culture is as perceptive as it is unrelentingly funny. The pace never slows, a testament to Swift’s concise writing and Jerry Dye’s fast-moving direction.
As a rule, Myotis finds men (her well-trained husband, Hershiel, in particular) to be barely tolerable if not outright unnecessary. Intimacy is onerous in a Christian (read: her own) household, and the less effort expended on it, the happier a woman will be.
“There is nothing that can be accomplished with sexy underwear that can’t be accomplished by opening your flannel housecoat a little,” she advises the young ladies.
While Velma and Ima have never been much more than Myotis’ harried sycophants in past productions, they blossom in “Church Retreat.” Madden’s childlike Ima, “with the brain the size of a squirrel’s,” is an excited helper, eager to get the attention she craves. As Velma, Todd Berry plays the silent, unruffled foil who can say a thousand words with a twist of the lips or the flex of an eyebrow. In this script, both Berry and Madden’s distinctive characters finally seem like they are Myotis’ essential cohorts.
“Sister Myotis’ Church Retreat” — a seminar on marriage, children, death and good-housekeeping from a woman with a grandiose appreciation for her own sacrifices in life — is an uproarious evening of brilliant Southern comic writing from a master satirist.
— Christopher Blank: 529-2305