SILLY SISTERHOOD Kelley, Rosen, Farina, Domenick, and Bradley.
Nuns, the ones dressed to look like they belong to some Antarctic bird-worshiping cult, are still considered cute. They've avoided the scandals created by their patriarchal brethren, with nothing more sinister in many memories than ruler-rapped knuckles. The musical Nunsense is bringing those memories back at the Courthouse Center for the Arts, in West Kingston, through June 3. With book, music, and lyrics by Dan Goggin, it's directed and choreographed by Richard Sabellico.
The production is being performed delightfully by its cast of five, but the actors rise heads and shoulders above their material. Though enormously popular since its creation in 1985, Nunsense is like the first, clunky Star Trek series with William Shatner: the creators should have known that so much more could be done with the premise.
The setup is that the Little Sisters of Hoboken are staging a musical in the Mt. Saint Helen's School auditorium to raise money to bury the four dead nuns that are currently in the freezer downstairs. Seems that their cook knocked off the other 52 nuns with a pot of botulism-tainted vichyssoise soup. They thought they had raised enough money to bury them all, but Mother Superior (Marilyn Farina) spent some on a VCR. (The high-end jewel-encrusted model, I guess. Goggin has since updated the purchase to a hi-def TV, but this production is going for historical verisimilitude.)
Good enough so far. Unfortunately, although witty or at least funny jokes take no longer to crack, lame ones are given preference here, along the lines of using an ironing board to make pressed duck. And we are to believe that these nuns would tell seriously bawdy jokes, unable to resist the temptation of cracking wise about a readily available image (kneeling in prayer).
The good sisters are a varied lot. Katie Claire Bradley's Sister Robert Anne is from Brooklyn and streetwise (not that she knows how to get places, as her Mother Superior thinks it means), and demonstrates her gotta-sing exuberance and limelight lust in "Playing Second Fiddle" and "I Just Want to Be a Star." Dana Domenick's Sister Mary Leo wants to express her devotion through dance, so we get her on pointe daintily prancing through "The Dying Nun Ballet." Impishly grinning and full of life, Ashley Kelley's Sister Mary Hubert leads the rousing, crowd-clapping gospel-inspired "Holier Than Thou" that ends the show. Kaitlyn Rosen's Sister Mary Amnesia is understandably shy, always on the verge of recalling her real name; she does a duet with a hand puppet, singing "So You Want To Be a Nun." "Tackle That Temptation With a Time Step" gives four of them some toe-tapping exercise, with Bradley and Domenick squaring off for the fancy finale. As Mother Superior, Marilyn Farina gets to ham it up as high and aroused by an inhalant she confiscated from a student.
One opportunity taken up to funny effect is their Cooking with the BVM (as in Blessed Virgin Mary, for heaven's sake) cookbook, full of recipes such as Barbecued Ribs St. Joan, Leg of Lamb of God, and Mary Magdalene Tarts ("they're easy," someone puns). They were collected by Sister Julia, of vichyssoise ill-fame. The sisters suddenly are all in a tizzy, in a typically phony joke opportunity, when they realize that that recipe is included. Since botulism isn't one of the ingredients, their dismay doesn't make sense; but sense plays second fiddle when your audience isn't supposed to be thinking.