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The Divine Sister
Jun 15, 2012 - Jun 24, 2012
By Charles Busch
Direct from a heralded Off-Broadway run at the SoHo Playhouse, The Divine Sister is an outrageous comic celebration of nearly every Hollywood film involving nuns. Evoking such films as The Sound of Music, The Bells of St. Mary’s, The Singing Nun and Doubt, it tells the story of St. Veronica’s indomitable Mother Superior who is determined to build a new school for her Pittsburgh convent. Along the way, she has to deal with a young postulant who is experiencing “visions,” sexual hysteria among her nuns, a sensitive schoolboy in need of mentoring, a mysterious nun visiting from the Mother House in Berlin, and a former suitor intent on luring her away from her vows! It’s madcap, miraculous, zany fun!
“Mr. Busch’s freshest, funniest work in years, perhaps decades.” The New York Times
“A 90-minute jolt of humor, silliness, satire and even affection, it is an old-fashioned campy miracle!” The Baltimore Sun
AGNES: April Culver
SISTER WALBURGA/MRS. MACDUFFIE: Elisabeth Ballstadt
SISTER ACACIUS: Stacy Brothers
MOTHER SUPERIOR: John Robinson
MRS. LEVINSON/TIMOTHY: Cara McCulley
JEREMY/BROTHER VENERIUS: Mark Maddy
Director: Deena Conley
Stage Manager: Cedric Fevrier
Production Stage Manager: Rachael Rhoades
Scenic Designer: Steve McLean
Lighting Designer: Jim Trenberth
Costume Designer: Jill Frank
Sound Designer: Josh Jepson
Props Designer: Austin Kopsa
Hair/Wig/Make-up Designer: Cindy Hummel
Carpenter: Paul Mostrom
Theater review: StageWest’s ‘The Divine Sister’
By Bruce Carr, Special to the The Des Moines Register, June 19, 2012
Thanks be to StageWest for staging Charles Busch’s outrageously funny The Divine Sister at the Civic Center’s Stoner Studio Theater (through Sunday), hardly more than a liturgical calendar-year since the play’s successful, seven-month run off-Broadway.
Busch has made his career for three decades writing (and starring in) comedies that make fun of the grande dame and other theatrical/cultural clichés, and this latest farce may well be the best of the lot.
“Sister” skewers every wonderfully bad old movie, TV show and drama in which the leading lady plays a nun. Busch clearly loves them all, and loves most of all placing them in his own unique thespian world where, as New York Times drama critic Ben Brantley describes it, “the acting is always overripe, the plots as thick as oatmeal, and the taste level close to the gutter.”
StageWest co-founder and artistic director Ron Lambert delivered his customary opener last Friday not from the front of the stage as usual but instead pre-recorded from On High. We had already enjoyed translating the three stained glass windows in Steven McClean’s charming set: See, Hear, and Do No Evil. Then in skips young Sister Agnes (April Culver doing Sally Field), an orphan, who is not yet a nun but a postulant. She may be bonny, but she has a terrible secret (as does every other character in the piece).
Very quickly we meet those other characters:
– The mysterious Sister Wallburga (Elisabeth Ballstadt doing Ida Lupino with a fearsome German accent), officially visiting from the Mother House in Berlin, she says.
– The jolly Sister Acacius, rough and ready principal and football coach of the convent’s parochial school (Stacy Brothers doing Nancy Walker in tennis shoes).
– Mother Superior herself, also an orphan (John Earl Robinson in the title role, doing too many divas to list, but think Rosalind Russell, Loretta Young, Greer Garson, Anne Bancroft).
– The elderly, very rich widow and non-believer named Mrs. Levinson (Cara Hoppes McCulley doing Kate Hepburn as Mrs. Venable in “Suddenly, Last Summer”). Most of the actors also double in subsidiary roles, and McCulley is particularly delicious as the earnest and unathletic schoolboy subject to unspeakable insults from his little chums.
– Jeremy, the former hot-shot newspaper reporter turned consultant (Mark Maddy doing Cary Grant in “His Girl Friday”).
“Sister” is deftly directed by Deena Conley, who keeps the comedy so broad you don’t have to follow the impossible plot or catch the more arcane cross-references in order to enjoy, for example, Mother Superior’s truly banal guitar-tune (reprised, naturally, in the finale). Or the vulgar puns (no way will I spoil those) or the inventive costumes (by Jill Frank) or the sizable dollop of “The DaVinci Code” (did you know that Our Savior had an older sister named Joyce?).
Still, I’m sure there was something from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” in there. Oh, right: they’re black crows, aren’t they . . . .