Saturday, December 15, 2001

Nunsense A-Men!

Nunsense A-Men!
Out On The Town
by Scott Shumaker
Habit Forming

Fans of screen nuns Sally Field and Julie Andrews, and their unflinching earnestness, should probably stay home, as the spirited and funny Nunsense A-Men! does serious damage to the sweetly pristine image of women of the cloth. In this parody of a farce, performed in drag, five sisters are determined to overturn the notion that convent life is boring.

In essence, the show is a series of funny musical gags and sketches, strung together (just barely) on the premise of a convent in crisis. As the ladies are quick to point out, tragedy recently befell the Little Sisters of Hoboken. All but five of the 57 sisters died from food poisoning, and the convent only had enough money to bury 48 of them. The rest are frozen in the refrigerator in the kitchen. The nuns have staged a musical to raise funds for the interment of their dearly departed sisters. The Sound of Music this ain't.

What ensues is satire ranging from silly to hilarious to occasionally mundane. There's not much of a story, so the play focuses mainly on the quirky nature of the nuns, and pokes fun at Catholicism. Ambitious Mary Hubert attempts to wrest leadership and the spotlight from Mother superior whenever possible. sister Robert Ann attempts to reconcile her desires to be a star with the spar life of the church. And so forth. None of this is done to much depth, nor is much required. The most believable and sympathetic performance is Rich Aldret's Sister Mary Amnesia, a "truly lost soul," who arrives at the convent one day with no memory of her identity. Aldret's nun is vulnerable and innocent, and his solos, particularly "I Could've Gone to Nashville," are delivered with an sincerity that is surprisingly compelling, considering the overall tone of the show. Sister Amnesia's conflict is the closest thing to drama that exists in this play, and Aldret should be applauded for pulling it off.

Another treat is watching Sister Mary Leo's (Chuck Walker) ballet numbers. Walker is definitely on pointe, and has obviously had some dance training. One could wish for a bitchier and more commanding Mother Superior, thought: Steven Haber's Sister Mary Regina is too timid. Perhaps brandishing a wooden ruler would evoke some audience member's memories of Catholic school. And all of the performers need to project their dialogue more--some spoken lines were difficult to hear.

The play was originally written for an all female cast (as Nunsense), although it's hard to imagine how humor this campy could have been performed without drag. Fortunately, in an admirable burst of kitsch, author Dan Goggin adapted his original play for an all-male cast, and produced it off-Broadway last year. Haber and Rexroth, both members of Gay Men's Chorus of Washington (along with the rest of the cast), approached Goggin about producing the show in D.C., and brought it town.

Every theatrical season needs a lighthearted, campy production, and this (along with The Women at Arena Stage) fills the bill. The play's pun-laden humor is even infectious: one audience member responded to a remark about the two hour-plus performance by saying, "Well, you know... time flies when you're having nun!"

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