Charles Busch’s The Divine Sister is a quirky little satire that pokes fun at the memorable movies about nuns from the 1960’s. This parody attacks every monastic stereotype, from the masculine Reverend Mother to the wide-eyed postulant (and several in between). The story centers around the Mother Superior at a convent in Pittsburgh, and her struggle to raise money for the convent’s school, while negotiating a gaggle of unique nuns under her supervision. When the convent is visited by the secretive Sister Walburga from Berlin and a persistent reporter from New York, the Reverend Mother learns her past and present selves are more intertwined than she ever imagined.
‘Sister’ Nods at Nuns of the ’60’s
HE SAID: When I first heard about this show, I got excited at the idea of a parody of nun movies. But when I was watching the show, my lack of familiarity for the pieces being parodied became evident as a lot of the references, and therefore a lot of the comedy, didn’t land for me. I knew Agnes of God, Sound of Music, and Doubt (yes, Doubt), so some comedic bits were hilarious, but I expected more from the show as a whole. Obviously, a parody is best when you completely understand the source material, but it should still be a solid comedy for those less familiar.
SHE SAID: I definitely agree that this show lands best on those who have a working familiarity with movies portraying nuns in the ’60’s. The plot is silly and in the end doesn’t add much more than a structure for a stream of various raucous gags. The script has plenty of jokes, several of which delightfully make return visits to even bigger payoffs later in the show. But the strategy is definitely a bit scatter-shot, and I noticed other audience members seemed to be on a very different laugh schedule than we were.
Whyde Leads Ensemble in Comic Skill
HE SAID: My issues with the script aside, I found the cast toperformed wonderfully – especially Christopher Whyde in the lead role of the Mother Superior. His comedic timing was impeccable but he also found a stand out level of sincerity and earnestness necessary in a show that is written a such a high level of camp. In this type of show, so often you see people add bits or play up the fact that the show is written in a campy style and in doing so the show becomes about nothing else. All story and sense of actual characters are lost to the detriment of the production. But Whyde really handled the material perfectly. Yes, it was larger than life, but I believed it every step of the way.
SHE SAID: The individual performers were all clearly talented and very well-cast for their various (and sometimes multiple) roles. In addition to Whyde’s thoroughly enjoyable performance, I also really appreciated the tough earnestness of McPherson Horle as Sister Acacius, and Laura Jo Trexler’s wide-eyed, quirky portrayal of Agnes was really enjoyable. The rest of the cast was appropriately eccentric, and at the end of the evening the success of the piece was really in the ensemble. The design elements were all straight-forward, but fun and a very clever use of The Avenue’s small space. I appreciated costume details like distinguishable shoes on the nun characters to reinforce the differences between characters that are by definition dressed nearly identically. All of the design elements reinforced the balance between nodding to the movies that are depicted in the play and giving the new story a character of its own.
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The Avenue Knows How to Make Room for Quirky Comedy
THEY SAID: The Avenue has mounted one of the first productions of new show to the theatre market and brought with it some great talent. The cast is full of familiar and remarkable performers, but the stand out of the show is clearly Christopher Whyde. The design is another example of the Avenue knowing its limitations in space and working to benefit from them. When it comes down to it, this show is best served to those who know and love the nun movies ’60s. There are a lot of great references and parodies of this material, which are terrific for those who fully understand the source and might fall a bit flat for those who don’t.
For more information about The Divine Sister, see The Divine Sister Onstage. The Divine Sister plays through July 30 at The Avenue Theatre. Click the banner above for tickets and more information.