By Aubry D'Arminio
Updated April 19, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Joan Marcus

There is something initially compelling about husky-voiced former sexpot Kathleen Turner playing a Catholic nun in Matthew Lombardo’s High. Even with her heftier figure and a growl that drips more cigarette damage than honey, the 56-year-old actress possesses enough of the sensuality and mischievousness of her Body Heat days to make ”holier-than-thou” role an intriguing fit. But High‘s Sister ”Jamie” Jamison Connelly — a successful addiction counselor assigned to rehabilitate a hopeless teen user (Evan Jonigkeit) — is no typical nun. She curses. She starts her prayers by saying, ”All right, God, here’s the deal.” She talks back to her priest/boss (Stephen Kunken) and threatens her patient. She’s exactly the type of antiestablishment, iconoclastic religious figure that Kathleen Turner, if you really think about it, is perfect to play. And, as a result, she’s also predictable and boring.

Don’t blame Turner. Like Jamie, she tries hard: But one can only hear a nun shout ”f—” so many times before it stops being funny or unique. That High unfolds like a string of Law & Order: SVU-type ”shockers” doesn’t help. Cody, Jamie’s 19-year-old charge, began smoking pot at 7. He learned how to shoot up by injecting his prostitute mother with heroin, and then started using himself to dull the pain of the repeated rapes he received courtesy of one of her johns. By the time he makes it into Jamie’s care at the play’s start, he’s also been a pusher, a pimp, and maybe even a murderer. She wants little to do with him — he’s far too troubled to be anywhere but a high-security rehab facility — but takes him in at the insistence of the young priest. (The two men are mysteriously connected — it’s not sexual, but High isn’t above letting you momentarily think it is.)

Thus begin Jamie and Cody’s antagonistic therapy sessions — full of spunky back-and-forths. Cody, of course, painfully reminds the nun of herself. And High makes a great deal of Jamie’s background as a formerly homeless boozer who grew up chasing boys while her perfect younger sister dedicated herself to goodness and homework. Cody, possessing the keen psychological insight and psychic powers typical of fictional addicts, instantly senses the connection between them, and taunts her endlessly. Jonigkeit, with his pearly-white skin, olive-colored teeth, and complete lack of body fat, makes an adequate undernourished joneser. He is also Turner’s complete physical opposite — allowing her to dominate him in every one of these scenes, even when, after a disastrous fall off the wagon, he strips completely naked and attempts to assault her.

High culminates in a late-night, back-alley-set confession that’s supposed to be shocking — but we have heard the same twisted type of revelation made in the umpteenth precinct of every TV crime show over the past two decades. It’s shameful that High never manages to dig any deeper in that moment — or any moment. C

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