Theatre Review: “Nunsense” by Actors Theatre of Indiana

"Nunsense" - Actors Theatre of Indiana

Last Saturday night I met a friend at the Carmel Community Playhouse in the Clay Terrace shopping center to see Actors Theatre of Indiana’s professional production of “Nunsense: A Musical Comedy.”

This particular friend is very particular about her theatre, so I only invite her to shows that I am pretty sure are going to be well done.

And guess what?  At the end of this show, my friend said, “Very well done, especially the comic timing.”

(Yay!)

I had seen a community theatre production of this irreverent but not mean-spirited piece three years ago (pre-blog) in a huge auditorium.  I enjoyed that production, but the intimacy of the space in the Carmel Community Playhouse and the extra-high quality of ATI’s performers, design team, and direction team, make this particular production an extra-special treat.

The Sisters On Stage

My friend and I both laughed a lot at the five nuns putting on a variety show in the local high school gym in order to raise money to bury four dead sisters that are (pardon the expression) chilling in the convent freezer until the live sisters can raise enough money to pay for their proper burial. 

Debra Babich is the rule-bound Sister Mary Regina, the Mother Superior of the Little Sisters of Hoboken.   The scene in which she innocently explores a little bottle of some kind of breathable, inhibition-relaxing drug that someone left behind in the school’s locker room is a hoot.

Claire Wilcher is Mother’s energetic right hand and frustrated, would-be replacement, Sister Mary Hubert.  I enjoyed the whole show very much, but I would like to go to it again simply to hear Claire belt out “Holier Than Thou” at the end.  (Note: The run of this show includes Wednesday night performances!)

Mikayla Anne Reed is Sister Mary Robert Anne, a feisty, street-smart nun from Brooklyn.  Her impromptu “audition” for the convent show includes a priceless impression of the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz.

Katy Gentry is Sister Mary Amnesia, so named because she can’t remember her own name and no one at the convent knows where she came from.  Katy’s ventriloquism duet with a growly-voiced puppet nun and Sister Amnesia’s much sweeter voice is hilarious.

Kyra J. Kenyon is Sister Mary Leo, the eager-to-please postulant who dreams of becoming a famous dancing nun.  Her graceful ballet sequences add an extra layer of loveliness to the show.

All five women have impeccable coming timing AND strong, beautiful singing voices.  They can also all dance up a storm, with and without tap shoes.

The Sisters and Brothers Backstage

Another reason this show is a treat – beyond the wealth of pure performer talent – is the attention that was paid to details in the design of the show.  Under Judy Fitzgerald’s direction, everything – the blocking, the pacing, and so on – enriches the whole and perfectly uses the space.

God is in many of the other details as well.

For example, each of the nuns (except for the novice) wears a wedding ring along with her full, authentic-looking habit, which is an important detail when the audience is only a few feet away.  But beyond that, even the nun puppet wears a wedding ring!  (Costume coordination/construction by Terry Woods & Karen Webster.  Cynthia Collins is master of properties.)

Another example is the Catholic school lockers on the set designed by Cynthia Collins.  They have little crosses on them!  Also, the movable set pieces – a soda shop counter with pink and lavender stool tops, a girl’s bedroom – look exactly like set pieces from a production of “Grease.”  This is what they are supposed to look like because supposedly that is the show that the Catholic high school is rehearsing while the nuns put on their fundraiser.  My friend had never seen “Nunsense” before, and when we first sat down, she asked if the resident company – the Carmel Community Players – was running a production of “Grease!” while “Nunsense” was going on! (Producer Don Farrell is also the scenic painter and master electrician.)

Yet another example is the movie “history” of the convent created by videographer Zach Rosing and shared on an appropriately-sized projector screen.  It looks just like an old-timey silent film…until the funny picture that is the punch line.

Lighting designer Gary W. DeMumbrum and sound designer Don Drennen both used just-right levels, effects, and other choices to make the show perfectly accessible while perfectly embellishing it.  Stage manager Jeremy M. Cales, light board operator Karen Webster, and spotlight operator Bayley Godzeski all execute these designs skillfully while wearing either nun habits or friar robes.

The three members of the live band, wearing priestly collars and robes, are clustered in character at the back of the stage.  Music/vocal director “Father” Nathan Perry plays the keyboard.  “Deacon” Don Jenkins is on bass guitar.  “Sister Mary Stephanie” Sambol Carter is on the drums.  All three musicians sounded good and were present and involved with the story of the show as well.

Even the company profiles in the paper program are fun to read.  I think that actors usually write their own bios, but I wonder if Claire Wilcher wrote the segments of the “Nunsense” bios that describe each nun.  I know that she is a writer as well as a performer.  Anyway, if you go to this show, be sure to take a moment to enjoy the program.

I am saving the choreography (by Cynthia Collins) for last because I especially loved the delicious little surprises in it.   There was not a lot of dancing space on the stage and yet the nuns’ dances – individually and in combinations – were fully fun and interesting because they included things like cupped faces and traveling by ankle…Oh, dear me, I really do not have a vocabulary for describing dance.  So…I’ll  just say that the choreography in this show is richly yet appropriately detailed.  I encourage you to go see it for yourself.

Box Office

“Nunsense: a Musical Comedy,” with book, music, and lyrics by Dan Goggin, continues at the Carmel Community Playhouse on Wednesdays-Sundays through Sunday, March 28, 2010.  This is a production of Actors Theatre of Indiana, so please visit the ATI website (www.actorstheatreofindiana.org) for more show times and more information.

Oh!  I almost forgot:  tickets for any Wednesday or Thursday performance are only $20.

‘See you at the theatres!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

Follow @IndyTheatre on Twitter.com, too, for quick observations before and after each show I attend.

(Pictured above left to right: Sister Mary Hubert (Claire Wilcher), Father Perry (Nathan Perry), Sister Mary Amnesia (Katy Gentry), Sister Mary Leo (Kyra Jeanne Kenyon), Mother Superior Sister Mary Regina (Debra Babich).  Photo by ATI.)

5 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “Nunsense” by Actors Theatre of Indiana”

  1. Hah! Thanks for this background info, Zach.

    I remember the crosses on the “Nunsense” set as being more golden and ornate than the ones in the photo from “bare.” Guess I’ll just have to go see “Nunsense” again to compare! 🙂

    By the way, on re-reading what I posted, I am afraid I didn’t say the most important thing, which is that this production of a musical that has been around a while is very FRESHLY funny.

    Sigh…this is why I should really limit myself to writing about one or two shows per MONTH. (But I am not going to.)

  2. Hey Hope!

    Thanks for coming! I’m happy you enjoyed the show. I didn’t write the bios for the program; they’re already kind of formatted and pre-written. We just substituted our names and added a couple of personal details. The program is good pre-show reading though, isn’t it?

    Work those bangs, girl.

    -C.

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