Entertainment :: Theatre

The Divine Sister

by Christopher Verleger
Contributor
Thursday May 3, 2012
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John Michael Richardson, Ashley Hunter, and Rae Mancini in "The Divine Sister"
John Michael Richardson, Ashley Hunter, and Rae Mancini in "The Divine Sister"  (Source:2ndStory/Richard W. Dionne, Jr.)

2nd Story Theatre’s delightfully audacious production of playwright and performance artist Charles Busch’s "The Divine Sister," directed by Ed Shea, pays tribute to, while brazenly poking fun at, the role of nuns and the convent in the history of American cinema.

"The Divine Sister" is the latest addition to Busch’s lengthy list of comedic accomplishments, including spoofs "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom," "Psycho Beach Party," and "Red Scare on Sunset," as well as the Tony-nominated, "The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife."

His "Divine" heroine, Mother Superior, played cagily and gracefully by JM Richardson, is determined and will stop at nothing to save her dilapidated, bankrupt church from closing its doors.

She and fellow Sister Acacius (the always pleasant Rae Mancini) resort to begging their wealthy neighbor, the non-believing Mrs. Levinson (Margaret Melozzi), for a large, charitable donation.

Soon after the uninterested and unimpressed Mrs. Levinson dismisses Mother Superior and Sister Acacius, she learns her house guest, Jeremy (Jim Sullivan), a film producer, seeks access to the convent for a movie idea about a young postulant, Agnes (Ashley Kenner), who supposedly has the power to heal. Meanwhile, Sister Walburga (Janine Weisman), a recent transplant from Berlin with her own agenda, meets with Brother Venerius (Sullivan, looking very much like Uncle Fester), on the sly.

Few actors can fill the gender-bending shoes of the playwright, who originated the role of Mother Superior, and JM Richardson’s campy portrayal is -- pun intended -- glorious.

Throughout it all, the iron-willed Mother Superior never loses focus, despite having shared more than words with Jeremy back when she was a young, crusading journalist. Furthermore, she helps Mrs. Levinson realize her connection to the church extends far beyond her property’s proximity.

Does this all sound ridiculous? Inarguably. Is it purposely meant to be so? Unmistakably. Are the end results irreverently amusing? Absolutely.

Movie buffs will revel in the play’s coy references to contemporary screen gems like "Agnes of God" and "Doubt," as well as the influence of classics, "The Trouble with Angels" and "Black Narcissus."

Busch, however, proudly presents these "Divine" beings in a different light and toys with the audience by using their mission and mannerisms as fodder for foolish behavior that is hardly exemplary and most unbecoming of a nun.

Few actors can fill the gender-bending shoes of the playwright, who originated the role of Mother Superior, and Richardson’s campy portrayal is -- pun intended -- glorious. Melozzi and Kenner’s over-the-top performances are equally as fun to watch.

Whatever underlying message -- if any -- Busch meant to convey, "The Divine Sister" is rife with playful, albeit raunchy, humor and unbridled laughter. 2nd Story’s production, and the season’s closer, is a truly blessed event.

Chris Verleger is an avid reader, aspiring novelist and self-professed theater geek from Providence. Email cwverleger1971@yahoo.com.

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