The Beheading of Sister Mary Jasmine

Paying your final respects to Sister Mary Jasmine requires a bit of a pilgrimage off the beaten track of your favorite Fringe venues.Mourners gather in Studio 2 of the Emergence Studio Arts Collective near Howard University, hoping to get one last glimpse of their dear sister before she is interred in the earth, but alas, her casket is empty!

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There is something of a mystery afoot, and it is from here that Brian H. Reynolds, the actor and director behind this one-man show, begins his compact yet uncertain whodunit/redemption tale of those associated in and around the Sister’s wacky life.

The set is simple, yet immersive: the empty casket, a lectern, a kneeler, a black curtain, and a table of votive candles accompany the rows of chairs for the faithful. The only lighting is that provided by the windows and florescent bulbs.

This setting gives off the sense of something more in the vein of site-specific theater or a theatrical happening, something that we only get to experience having met here as a group at this time and place. That rather interesting concept stands until Reynolds begins switching between his characters.

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The Beheading of Sister Mary Jasmine
by Brian H. Reynolds
at The Emergence Community Arts Collective
733 Euclid Street NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Details and tickets

Bantering dialogue and costume changes behind the curtain are a staple device of one-man shows, but a lack of conviction to each character and specific moments of the play on Reynolds’ part distracts the viewer from the clever environment he has created. It’s here that the sheer theatricality of the whole piece is made strikingly obvious, and we as the audience are forced to shift from immersed to rather detached from the world of the play.

Though Reynolds puts in a great deal of work to portray his many characters, the need for specific distinction between each only serves to muddle the loosely-constructed plot and brings into question what the real focus of the piece is.

Though one-man shows are a feat of skilled acting talent, fearless bravado, and a crazy-enough imagination to bring the entire thing into being, it is a craft that is excruciatingly hard to get just right. It may be a case of biting off more than he alone could chew, but future iterations of this show could definitely benefit from having another set of eyes to help shape and guide its inner workings. Reynolds has a quirky and thoughtful take on his material, and with a willing collaborator, this could be a very fun piece of interactive theater.

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