MARCH 2022 | Volume 213
Photo by Emily Cooper.
In this month of brutal war in Ukraine, raging inflation, relentless rain, and COVID that won’t go away, an evening of theatrical goofiness is entirely welcome. Nunsense, a light-as-a-feather revue disguised as a play, presented by a ridiculously talented cast, may be just the antidote. The title pretty much says it all.
The scenario is a New Jersey nunnery where the sisters need to raise money for … I won’t give away the premise, the broad ridiculousness of which defines the evening’s style. Anyway, five nuns are putting on a show for us: Mother Superior (Nancy Herb), her second in command, Sister Mary Hubert (Catriona Murphy), streetwise Sister Robert Anne (Sheryl Anne Wheaton), novice and aspiring dancer Sister Mary Leo (Sarah Mercier), and Sister Mary Amnesia (Meghan Anderssen), who hit her head and has trouble remembering.
These nuns are not exactly Mother Teresa. As they sing early on, “Though we’re on our way to heaven, we’re here to raise some hell.” There’s a great deal of singing, dancing, and general schtick from them all (“How do you make holy water? You beat the hell out of it!”), much of it entertaining and impressive, some not so much. Dan Goggin’s music is fairly lame, although the lyrics are clever, the actors all have terrific voices, and music director Shawn Henry, who plays keyboards in the background, has arranged some lovely harmonies.
My personal favourites are Mercier’s dancing sister, the terrific ensemble tap number that ends Act One (kudos to choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt), and Anderssen’s not-so-amnesiac puppet routine with Sister Mary-onette. Director Gillian Barber establishes a snappy pace, but Goggins’ Act Two still feels redundant.
Written in 1985, the play’s cultural references sometimes feel dated, though a mention of COVID helps ground the show in the present. But however innocent and entertaining its characters and premise, a Canadian production in 2022 can’t help but be at least faintly haunted by residential school ghosts. As welcome a diversion as Nunsense is, it can’t make us unknow the things we know.
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