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Turner's great, writing's not in 'High'

Kathleen Turner in "High," playing at the Booth

Kathleen Turner in "High," playing at the Booth Theatre in Manhattan. Credit: AP/Boneau/Bryan-Brown, Joan Marcus

'We all suffer from some form of addiction," says Father Michael to Sister Jamison, urging her to continue the counseling of a 19-year-old suicidal gay hustler and meth-head named Cody.

Sister Jamison, played by Kathleen Turner, doesn't appear to nod off at the banality of that proclamation or the many other snoozers in Matthew Lombardo's simplistic sin-and-redemption psychodrama, "High." And this, as they say in show biz, must be acting.

Turner, who branded herself on Broadway as Tennessee Williams' Maggie the Cat and as Edward Albee's Martha the Viper, wouldn't seem an immediate casting choice to play a nun -- even a tough-talking modern one with street clothes and her own damaged history of bad boys and booze.

But here she is -- not so much wasted as underutilized -- as the only thing worth watching in this three-character formula by Lombardo, who gave Valerie Harper the chance to talk dirty and wave cigarettes as Tallulah Bankhead last season in the tiresome and short-lived "Looped."

Like "Looped," this star vehicle is directed by Rob Ruggiero and surrounds a massive female personality with two fellows lugging their own back stories. Stephen Kunken does whatever he can to make us care about the priest, whose secret is only slightly more interesting than his platitudes. Evan Jonigkeit sneers, fidgets and mumbles with a somewhat daring lack of likability as Cody, the kid with the terrible past.

The simple set mostly alternates between a couple of white doors and white furniture for the church and a dark sky with a zillion stars. This cosmic backdrop accompanies the nun's monologues about her rebellious childhood, her tragic angel of a sister and her predictable crises of faith.

Turner gives an admirably vanity-free performance, with a beaten-up look on her face and her salt-and-pepper hair gathered back in a braid. Most of the time, Sister Jamison takes a stock, tough-love, drill-sergeant approach to therapy, though she responds to Cody's predictably awful revelations with an implausible degree of shock and disgust.

"Textbook behavior" is how she describes Cody's manipulations to Father Michael. Textbook playwrighting describes the rest.

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