Story last updated at 11:11 a.m. Thursday, July 11, 2002

Latest Pier One offering 'habit-forming'
by Carey James
Staff Writer

photo: entertainment
  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Jennifer Norton, Kammi Matson, Brenda Dolma, from left front, and Kelsey Kleine, Marianne Snowden, and Rose Beck, from left back, practice for their harmony for "Nunsense."  
Almost as funny as the one-liners, dance skits and flying chickens in "Nunsense" was watching the audience gradually adjust to the idea of poking fun at religion.

After all, the 10 sisters of Hoboken looked like nuns, walked like nuns, and occasionally even talked like nuns.

So when Sister Mary Regina, the Reverend Mother, said things like, "Hey Julia, what the hell are you doing?" the audience didn't know quite what to do -- at first, anyway.

Soon enough, however, the ice of political correctness melted and the laughter rolled through as the habit-clothed actresses delivered a steady stream of comedy like "How do you make Holy water? Boil the hell out of it!"

"Nunsense," showing at Pier One Theatre through July 20, was written by Dan Goggin and was the second-longest-running off-Broadway play. According to Arthur Griffith, the play's director, "Nunsense" actually started with a collection of greeting cards with a photo of a nun on them. Eventually, Goggin hired the popular card's model to sell them in stores and wrote small skits for her to perform as a sales pitch. Pretty soon, he found he had a whole play.

But far from seeming like a pieced together work, "Nunsense" flows.

The "musical variety show with a plot," as Griffith calls it, starts shortly after a dreadful disaster smites the Hoboken nunnery. Sister Julia (Child of God) was experimenting, as usual, and made some God-awful soup. So bad, in fact, that it caused the untimely demise of 52 of the sisters. Only a few sisters, who happened to be attending a bingo game that night, survived.

But that's not the problem. The problem is that the remaining sisters don't have quite enough money to lay all the deceased nuns to rest, and consequently, four are still in the nunnery freezer.

So the nuns put on a talent show fund-raiser.

Now, you might wonder what talents nuns have other than singing hymns on key, but as the audience soon finds out, the nuns of Hoboken aren't your typical nuns. Sure, they can sing, but not always on key, and certainly not always hymns. Beyond that, there's a ballet dancer, an impressionist, a puppeteer and an aspiring country singer, just to name a few. Even Sister Mary Regina, played to perfection by Linda Mumms, has a few spotlight aspirations.

While all the performers in "Nunsense" rise to their roles, one of the shining stars is Sister Mary Amnesia, a ditzy character played by Brenda Dolma. Amnesia, as her title suggests, was hit on the head with a cross and can't seem to remember her name, her past, or anything else, for that matter.

But her constant errors and blind innocence add another layer of comedy to the show. It is Amnesia who draws the audience into the musical through a quiz (beware of putting up your hand), a pitch for people to join the nunnery and a host of one-liners.

Sister Robert Anne, played by Marianne Snowden, is another notable character. Anne, a free-spirited nun with an unusual past (she's from Brooklyn, no less), pushes the Reverend Mother's buttons with alarming accuracy in an attempt to perform in the talent show.

Sister Mary Hubert, Mistress of the Novices, is played by Mary Maly, a newcomer to the Pier One stage. Maly's character and strong voice add the perfect complement to Sister Mary Regina as the two contend with the rowdy group of nuns.

The vast number of musical acts in this show, crafted with the help of ever-present musical director JulieAnn Smith, would prove a challenge for any vocal crew, but given the comic nature of the show, perfection is far from pertinent. Instead, the gusto and enthusiasm with which even the most timid voice on stage sings her part is notable.

The only problem with "Nunsense" is that you can't possibly catch every joke the first time through, especially when your laughter gets the best of you. So a second viewing is highly recommended.

To steal a line from the play, it really is "habit-forming."

"Nunsense," a musical comedy

Where: Pier One Theatre, Homer Spit

When: Thursday and Sunday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8:15 p.m. (but be sure to arrive well in advance of curtain time)

Tickets: $12, with discounts

Call: 235-7333