Smile Politely

The best sort of Nunsense

So what do you normally do on a typical night? Maybe go out for a movie, or hang out with some friends? And that’s basically what I would do too, except last Friday night I decided to do something a bit different and attend Twin City Squared’s production of Nunsense! showing at Parkland Theatre’s Second Stage.

And oh lord, was I in for something else.

Nunsense, which was originally published by Dan Goggin in 1985, tells the story of five nuns in Hoboken, New Jersey who put on a variety show in a school auditorium to raise funds to bury the remaining four nuns out of the original fifty-two, after their cook Sister Julia accidentally poisoned them with her vichyssoise. I know, the irony abounds. Putting on this variety show is Mother Superior Sister Mary Regina played by James Dobbs (you can never go wrong with drag), Mistress of Novices Sister Mary Hubert played by Sherrika Ellison, Sister Robert Anne played by Sara Coffey, Sister Mary Amnesia played by Lydia Dunmeyer, and Sister Mary Leo, played by Jessica Miller.

Being completely honest, I thought the show was hilarious. I’ve never been one to enjoy what I could call “dumb humor”, and I was worried that I was going to be in for two hours of awkward jokes and cricket-filled moments but instead, the opposite happened. The nuns were funny and nothing like the stuffy, fill you with terror stereotype a lot of us imagine. I loved how James Dobbs, who played Mother Superior, was constantly trying to enforce discipline for the other nuns but miserably failing, particularly in Act one when she accidentally gets high and has to be led out laughing and singing. He balanced the strict Mother Superior personality beautifully with the plethora of silly moments, and all the while pulling it off in drag.

The rest of the nuns are equally entertaining, as each has their own idea of what the variety acts should be included in the show. Sister Robert Anne, played by Sara Coffey, is the nun from Brooklyn who dreams of starring in her own act for the show, and also hasn’t quite adjusted to the “holy and pure” aspect of the convent. Playing jokes right and left and driving Mother Superior crazy highlighted Sara Coffey’s ease on stage and for playing more non-traditional characters, which was pleasantly surprising given her still growing experience on stage.

Act one finishes with my favorite song and dance “Tackle That Temptation with a Time Step”, as the four sisters literally come out and try to tap dance their temptations away. It was ridiculous and funny, and the tap dancing was nicely put together. The singing did become a little spotty at times, but I can only imagine the amount of breathing power needed to sing and dance at the same time, so it wasn’t too hard to overlook those moments. Speaking of singing, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Sherrika Ellison and how incredible it was when she had the lead. I know few people who can sing as powerfully as she did without clearly straining their voices, and if there were times when it sounded anything other than effortless someone else would have to write about it. Lydia Dunmeyer and Jessica Miller also played their characters nicely, with Sister Mary Leo’s dreams to be the first famous ballerina nun endearing even in their unattainability.

The play concludes with Sister Mary Amnesia, who got her name losing her memory after being hit on the head by a crucifix, singing about how if she could have been anything other than a nun it would have been a country singer, and during her song she finally regains her memory and remembers that she is actually Sister Mary Paul. From her discovery the nuns realize that when they were in France years earlier Sister Mary Paul was the winner of the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes, and now they have enough money to bury the remaining four nuns. The nuns are over-joyed, and Sister Mary Hubert along with the other sisters sends the audience off with an energizing performance of “Holier Than Thou (or what it takes to become a saint)”. It’s a clichéd, too good to be true sort of ending, but as the rest of the show is over the top there’s no reason why the ending shouldn’t be.

What I liked the most about Nunsense is it’s a completely ridiculous play that doesn’t try to be anything else, and in its honesty, makes it work. It was a chance to be light-hearted and fun, and as an audience member I felt like I’d been granted a reprieve from the stress of finals and preparing for the holidays. And you know that when after the show concludes you hear the people sitting behind you say, “Oh that was really good”, you’ve hit the mark.

Twin City Squared’s Nunsense! will run from Dec. 17-19 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 20th at 2 p.m. in Parkland Theater’s Second Stage. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 217/353-5282.

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