Nunsense: Amusing Grace

Local Arts Reviews


Nunsense: Amusing Grace

State Theater Company,

through August 6

Running time: 2 hrs, 15 min

Dan Goggin's musical comedy Nunsense is nothing if not popular. First performed off-Broadway in 1985, the ribald revue has spawned two sequels, several takeoffs (including the all-male Nunsense A-Men!), and a Christmas musical -- not to mention the air is presently thick with movie talk. While Nunsense may be habit-forming (as its five Little Sisters of Hoboken claim), at first I just didn't get it.

Perhaps what threw me was the clothesline-thin plot -- five nuns put on a show to raise money to bury the rest of their order, who all died of food poisoning -- which barely keeps one-liners, song-and-dance bits, and vaudevillian sketches in tow. Without a doubt, Nunsense is quirky, kooky, and funny, but it can come off a little long on songs and showmanship and short on, well, sense.

Which is not to say that the nuns -- particularly as embodied by the State Theater Company's talented ensemble -- aren't a hoot. One of the show's strengths is that the characters, based on people Goggin knew from his parochial and seminary school years, are not pious, frigid caricatures, but three-dimensional individuals: Mother Superior (Sandy Walper), mistress of novices Sister Mary Hubert (Jacqui Cross), aspiring ballerina novice Sister Mary Leo (Jill Blackwood), Sister Robert Anne (Shoshana Gold), and Sister Amnesia (Bonni Hester), aptly dubbed after a crucifix fell on her head and she lost her memory.

Backed by a lively four-piece combo, the actors are strong of voice and characterization. While Robert Anne, who drives the convent car, is warm, tough, and, according to Mother Superior, "street smart" (which much to the Mother's surprise does not indicate a good sense of direction), and Blackwood floats across the stage (especially in Act I's "Benedicite"), Hester provides much of the hilarity. Before quizzing an audience on the history of the sisters' Mount St. Helens' School, for instance, she describes a clock with the 12 apostles on its face in place of numbers: "When the big hand's on the John and the little hand's on the Peter, it's time for the sisters to get on their knees ... and pray."

So what's not to get? The plot may be thin, but Nunsense bites into your bottom with four-letter audaciousness, running the gamut from drollery to hard-shelled satire. And with five very talented women in nun-too-cool costumes singing, dancing, and tapping -- and tossing out historical, cinematic, and pop-culture references all the while -- Nunsense will convert even the biggest nun-believer.

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Nunsense, The State Theater, Dan Goggin, musical comedy, Sandy Walper, Jacqui Cross, Jill Blackwood, Shoshana Gold, Bonni Hester, nuns

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