AN UPROARIOUS PRODUCTION OF CHARLES BUSCH’S “THE DIVINE SISTER”
An Uproarious Production of Charles Busch’s “The Divine Sister”
New Conservatory Theatre Center is presenting an uproarious production of Charles Busch’s “The Divine Sister” running through June 29th. The playwright is well known for his inclination toward high camp and here he is featuring some of the most hilarious guys in drag that you will ever see. This is a wild and wooly production that features a laugh a minute.
I doubt if the Opus Dei, the conservative wing of the Catholic Church would approve the antics of hilarious nuns of St. Veronica’s convent school but as a liberal thinking Catholic I had a ball watching this sidesplitting twisted tale of the secret lives of these nuns.
“The Devine Sister” is an outrageous comic homage to nearly every Hollywood film involving nuns. He evokes such films as “The Song of Bernadette”. “Bells of St. Mary’s”, “The Singing Nun” “Sound of Music” and “Agnes of God”. It’s 1960’s Pittsburgh, Mother Superior (Joe Wicht) is looking to raise some funds so she can modernize St. Veronica’s convent school, with the help of Sister Acacius (Marie O’Donnell), the convent’s brash wrestling coach. Mother Superior must get the extremely neighborhood atheist Mrs. Levinson (Michaela Greeley) to part with some of her cash to update the school.
The Mother Superior is also trying to manage one of the new postulates, Sister Agnes (David Bicha) who is convinced she’s “the chosen one” hearing divine voices, witnessing visions and apparently possessing the power to heal. St. Veronica’s is also hosting the visiting Sister Walburga (J. Conrad Frank) from Germany. She just might be the villain of this fast pace farce.
As it turns out Mother Superior had a life before becoming a nun as a girl reporter, which bears a distinct resemblance to Hildy Johnson, the ace journalist played by Rosalind Russell in Howard Hawks’ film “His Girl Friday”. There are flashbacks of when she was the sassy Susan of “The Daily Graphic swapping machine gun dialogue with fellow reporter Jeremy (Matt Weimer). These rapid, ton-twisting dialogues between the two are terrific.
The whole cast is gifted with strong comic chops and Joe Wicht leads the way shinning as Mother Superior. He is energetic, lovable with great exaggerated gestures and an authoritative yet melodic delivery when parodying Sally Field as “the singing nun”.
As young novice Agnes David Bicha delights every opportunity to make her weird character weirder. When she’s eating geranium from the courtyard shrine of a plastic Mary statue and when she’s clinging to a pair of dirty underpants bearing the likeness of St. Clair.
Marie O’Donnell doesn’t hold back as the hilariously boisterous Sister Acacius. J. Conrad Frank with a great thick accent as the stern Sister Walburga whose presence at St. Veronica becomes more suspicious by the minute. (She actually looks like Rosalind Russell as a nun) There are times watching her I thought of Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard” especially as she descended that long staircase at the end of the film.
Michaela Greeley shows wonderful range as the eccentric philanthropist and noted atheist Mrs. Levinson and as sweet Timmy who is athletically inept. at the school. Matt Weimer is excellent as charming Jeremy and also as the creepy Brother Venerius, a monk looking more like the Hunchback of Norte Dame.
Kuo-Hao Lo cheerfully hand painted sets are wonderful and costumes by Jorge R. Hernandez help transform actors who play multiple roles along with lighting by Christian Mejia. F. Allen Sawyer provides sharp direction and keeps the action moving briskly.
“The Devine Sister” is camp vaudeville of the very high or high-low order, a mixture of Rabelaisian crudeness and stylistic flourishes. All of this performed by top-notch cast and just a few delightfully uncomfortable moments.
“The Divine Sister” runs through June 29th at the Decker Theatre, New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave. San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or on line at www.nctcsf.org Also playing at the New Conservatory Theatre Center are Marc Acito “Birds of a Feather” running through June 29th and “Pansy” running also through June 29th.