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Nunsense

Review by Chris McGarry

Sister Mary Hubert (Marlene Handrahan), Mother Superior Mary Regina (Robin Craig) and Sister Mary Amnesia (Natalie Sullivan) in the skit “Baking with the Blessed Virgin Mary” during Nunsense at the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside (photo: ©pixbylorne)The near-capacity crowd who flocked to the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside on August 14 were treated to an evening of spectacular performances and hilarious fun as they watched legendary American writer/composer Dan Goggin’s megahit off-Broadway musical comedy Nunsense.

The production, directed by Catherine O’Brien, centers around five nuns who spend their days as members of the religious order Little Sisters of Hoboken. Though a fairly original concept, the five main characters fit popular stereotypes. There’s strict though comical old Mother Superior Mary Regina; Mistress of Novices Sister Mary Hubert; tough, streetwise, Brooklyn-raised Sister Robert Anne; ditzy though lovable Sister Mary Amnesia, (she cannot remember her past after a crucifix fell on her head); and innocent, saintly novice Sister Mary Leo.

In the story, Sister Julia, Child of God, accidentally poisons 52 of the convent’s 71 members with the tainted vichyssoise she cooked. The remaining 19 nuns start a greeting card company to make enough money to pay for the burials of their deceased sisters. Believing there was enough money from the profits Mary Regina uses some to buy an Xbox. As it turns out, there is only enough money to bury 48 of the 52 dead, so the remaining four are put in the freezer.

Desperate for cash, the Little Sisters of Hoboken put on a variety show at the Mount Saint Helen’s auditorium. What follows is a smorgasbord of meticulously rehearsed dance numbers, angelic, beautiful singing and side-splitting, zany skits—some with a tinge of off-coloured humor. Nunsense, in my humble opinion, is one of most sensational, over-the-top productions to grace the shores or our little island in a long time. Though not for all tastes, the play is a fastidiously constructed piece of art that is almost flawless in every way.

Nunsense pokes fun at modern Catholic culture but in a harmless, insightful way. Brieonna Locche did an excellent job as Sister Robert Anne when she told of her childhood in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood in the skit “Growing up Catholic.” The audience near collapsed with laughter as Mary Regina (Robin Craig) promoted her book Baking with the BMV (that’s the Blessed Virgin Mary for all you Protestants in the audience).

The chemistry between the performers was so strong it truly enhanced the story. To get the audience involved, the sisters, who had been operating a leper colony on an island in the south of France, got them to take part in a quiz.

All of the characters excelled in their roles. Sister Mary Hubert (Marlene Handrahan) was likable while Sister Mary Amnesia (Natalie Sullivan) wowed the audience with her ventriloquist skills portraying the cranky nun Sister Mary Annette. But it was the eager young novice Sister Mary Leo (Natalia Gracious) who, in my opinion, shone the most. Her cabaret-style performances were nothing short of impeccable.

Nunsense plays at the Harbourfront Theatre on Tuesdays and Thursdays until August 30.

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