Theater review: 'The Divine Sister' commits to bawdy, slapstick humor

CorrespondentJanuary 20, 2014 

Tony Hefner plays Mother Superior in Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of “The Divine Sister.”

CURTIS BROWN PHOTOGRAPHY

  • Details

    What: “The Divine Sister” by Charles Busch

    Where: Raleigh Little Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh

    When: 8 p.m. Jan. 23-25, 30-31 and Feb. 1; 3 p.m. Jan. 26 and Feb. 2

    Tickets: $16-$20

    Info: 919-821-3111 or raleighlittletheatre.org

Charles Busch writes hilarious spoofs of Hollywood genres in which he usually plays the leading lady, such as “Psycho Beach Party” and “Die Mommie, Die!” In 2010, he turned to movies about nuns in “The Divine Sister.” Actors Comedy Lab, in co-production with Raleigh Little Theatre, gives it a faithful staging, complete with male actor as the female lead and full commitment to the bawdy bits and slapstick silliness.

It’s 1966 at a convent school, where the Mother Superior tolerates a loony set of colleagues, including Sister Acacius, the sexually repressed wrestling coach; Agnes, the spacy new postulant with visions; and Sister Walburga, a mysterious nun visiting from Berlin. The Mother Superior also faces a crumbling building, so she approaches a rich atheist, Mrs. Levinson, for funding but is rebuffed.

The plot thickens when Jeremy, a friend of Mrs. Levinson and boyfriend of the Mother Superior in her pre-convent life, wants to make a film about Agnes’ visions. Secrets come out about all the characters in ever-escalating intertwinings.

The plot alludes to at least a dozen films, from “The Bells of St. Mary’s” to “Agnes of God.” Recognizing these is part of the fun, but the 100-minute one-act goes on too long and becomes much too complicated. There also are crude sexual jokes, profanity and potentially offensive put-downs of religion.

That doesn’t prevent the piece from being knee-slappingly funny, especially with the excellent cast director Rod Rich has assembled. He has instilled the right mix of reality and satire, along with skilled comic timing.

Tony Hefner’s Mother Superior is delightful, his gestures and voice never overplayed, yet hilarious throughout. Lexi Levy gives Agnes just the right wide-eyed innocence and ditziness. Amy Bossi Nasiatka wields a strong German accent as the no-nonsense Sister Walburga and makes a marvelous switch to a drunken cleaning lady. Alison Lawrence fills the stage as loud-mouthed, tactless Sister Acacius, perhaps too exaggerated but enthusiastically comedic. Christine Rogers is all stony primness as Mrs. Levinson and makes an amazing change to young student Timmy. Scott Nagel neatly channels Don Adams and Cary Grant as Jeremy and also amuses as a mad monk.

Sophisticated theatergoers should find the play smart and silly fun, but those looking for a sweet, “Nunsense” style entertainment are duly warned.

Dicks: music_theater@lycos.com

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