SummerWorks Review: The Ecstasy of Mother Teresa [Ecce Homo]

The Ecstasy of Mother Teresa1

Toronto – The title of The Ecstasy of Mother Teresa or Agnes Bojaxhui Superstar is pretty apt in a lot of ways: the show comes across as though it’s trying to be two different shows, one that works a whole lot better than the other.

The first, the “Ecstasy” part, is a harsh look at Mother Teresa, formerly Agnes Bojaxhui, the Catholic Church, and the nature of sainthood. In one of the first scenes, an angel and devil take up station on either end of the stage, and a series of actors come to one or the other relating what I assume are real life quotes either praising or criticizing Mother Teresa and her hopsice and missionary work in India with the very poor.

It sounds like it’s going to be heavy, powerful stuff for the evening, but in the next moment the “Superstar” part of the show turns up, and the scene becomes a big song and dance number with the angel and devil taking off their robes to reveal stockings and flashy underwear and high heels (both are guys, by the way) and grinding against each other, while the rest of the cast on stage sings a chorus.

And it’s good. The “Superstar” part of the show is great; the songs are clever, the guy playing the keyboard is very good, and the singers are terrific. The music is not only a funny send-up of the weighty matters of sainthood and Catholicism in general, but also make for a pretty excellent parody of a big Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

But the “Ecstasy” part lets the musical material down. Despite the opening that intimates the show will take a serious look at Mother Teresa, that never really happens until the tail end of the show. The parts in between are largely incomprehensible, full of strange imagery with random bouts of plot, sometimes losing the plot entirely to take pot shots at the Catholic Church. As an agnostic I don’t have a problem with this per se, but I do think that it’s a pretty easy target. If you’re going to take shots at the Church, you should be saying something new or offering some kind of insight. This doesn’t. The show culminates in a disjointed criticism of Mother Teresa’s rant on abortion in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech and her tepid reaction to the Bhopal Disaster of 1984, and a strange man in a black and white suit muses on the rightness of making humans, who are frail, insecure, and make mistakes, into saints at all.

But if that was the play’s point, that Mother Teresa was human like anyone else, it’s a line that should’ve been uttered a whole lot sooner, rather than making the show hastily philosophical at the end. The songs are terrific, but The Ecstasy of Mother Teresa or Agnes Bojaxhui Superstar never really decides if it’s a funny parody of the church and Webber musicals, or a serious look at sainthood, Mother Teresa, and human frailty. If it had solely been the former, the “Superstar” part, it would’ve been a whole lot better.

The Ecstasy of Mother Teresa or Agnes Bojaxhui Superstar runs August 11th at 8, August 13 at 8 and August 14 at 6 at Theatre Centre as part of the SummerWorks Festival.

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Posted on by Brian in Everything, Summerworks, Theatre

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