Kathleen Turner suspects that her great-grandfather would approve of the unconventional nun she is portraying in Matthew Lombardo’s “High,” which opens for a one-week engagement at SHN’s Curran Theatre on Wednesday.
“He was a Methodist missionary in China but he broke from the church because he didn’t believe in creating what were called rice Christians,” she says, referring to the pejoratively used term for those who convert for food or other material necessities rather than from true faith.
“He wanted to either translate the Bible into Chinese or teach them English so they really understood things. So I think he would like Sister Jamie just fine.”
Sister Jamie is a rehabilitation counselor. She reluctantly takes on the case of a teenage addict found high on heroin in a motel room with the body of another boy who has overdosed.
They struggle to find common ground, and at times Turner speaks directly to the audience. “I loved that about the play,” she says, “the challenge of breaking down that fourth wall and stepping through it while maintaining the integrity of the scenes.”
Another facet of Sister Jamie is that she herself is in recovery from addiction, something Turner well understands. “I abused alcohol and came very close to disaster. Fortunately, I’m not a method actor. I don’t think you have to wreck your life in order to play someone who has wrecked their life.”
Her character’s frank nature – a truth teller, with a penchant for swearing – appealed to Turner, who has never been shy about speaking her mind.
Starring in a play that deals with themes of religion and faith, Turner says she finds “the way some people today see themselves as more Christian than others in order to exclude the others is, at a minimum, offensive.”
Propelled to a global profile by such box-office hits as “Body Heat” and her Oscar-nominated “Peggy Sue Got Married,” Turner relishes the chance to work for a live audience.
“I know some camera actors who are terrified to return to the stage, but I’ve never wanted to go more than two or three years without doing a stage project,” she says.
Sometimes there are even two stage projects at the same time. Turner just finished performing in “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick Ass Wit of Molly Ivins” in Los Angeles last month and hints it may see a Bay Area stop.
“I want to take it east first,” she says. “The time feels right for that. Then … you never know!”
IF YOU GO
Presented by SHN
Where: Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $30 to $100
Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com