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Review: ‘Nunsense’ brings live theater back with a lot of sass (and 5 perky wimples)

The hand sanitizer, the masks, the PPP funds, the anti-vaxxers, the Fauci groupies, the 6-feet rule.

Nun of it matters.

The best thing about “Nunsense,” the new Good Company Players musical now heading into its second weekend, is that it’s here. Live theater is back. In the first silly minutes of this amiable production, I thought of the exchange between Mr. Hawkins in “The Prom,” and Dee Dee, the Broadway star who has swept into the high school principal’s small town.

Pictured above: The cast of ‘Nunsense.’ Photo: Good Company Players

MR. HAWKINS: That’s why I love the theater
It’s how I escape

DEE DEE (spoken):
So, theater is a distraction? Is that what you’re saying?

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MR. HAWKINS (spoken):
No, a distraction is momentary. An escape helps you heal.

“Nunsense” helps me heal.

It sweeps away the memory of all that stuff I mentioned at the beginning, if only for an hour or two. (Actually, you know what else helped sweep it away? Dan Pessano’s welcoming speech before the production began in which he recited the social-distancing rules of the restroom, including My Favorite Line of the Pandemic: “Don’t stay 6 feet away from the toilet — that’s a problem for us.”)

The production is funny, tuneful, nicely sung, well acted and briskly directed by Laurie Pessano.

Is it the best written show you’ll ever see at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater?

Um, is the Pope Presbyterian?

The “Nunsense” concept originated as a series of greeting cards. Creator Dan Goggin managed to eek out not just a full musical from the premise but an entire series of them. The good news for GCP fans is that the original show, which is being performed here, is far superior to the dribble of sequels that followed. (The only living playwright who ever chewed me out in an email is Goggin, who blasted me for a pan of “Nunsensations: The Vegas Revue,” I think it was.)

That said, the plot of even the first musical is something of a clerical error. We meet five habit-clad members of the Little Sisters of Hoboken, a convent beset by unspeakable tragedy when 52 died of botulism after eating tainted soup. All but four of the sistren have been put to rest, but that last remaining, non-Mass-singing quartet is still in the convent freezer.

The solution: Let’s put on a show to raise money to bury them.


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Were frozen nuns funnier in 1985, when the show first came out? Perhaps. It was a different comic era when it came to dark comedy — the age of “Heathers,” when you could even make fun of teen-age suicide The fast-paced lineup of nun puns and Catholic witticisms is mostly in groaner territory, though I’ve always had an irrationally giddy response to the recipe for Mary Magdalene’s Tarts.

Instead, what makes the show come alive is the sweet-and-sour combination of the nuns. Any theater company that can plop five talented musical-comedy actors into the roles can’t help but succeed. GCP offers a stellar cast of veterans: Elizabeth Fiester, Camille Gaston, Janet Glaude, Emily Pessano and Dorie Sanders. Each of them shine when given their musical and comedic moments in the spotlight. Even when the one-liners deserve banishment to purgatory, the actors make (most of) them work through sheer, wimple-wearing cheerfulness.

Thanks, sisters, for helping all of us escape.


 


Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

Comments (1)

  • Jackie Ryle

    Thank you, Donald! Love to read your great reviews in advance. I’m going tonight and can’t wait! In addition to all your points, I love a good pun. I love a bad pun even more! The louder the groan, the better the pun. To GCP – Welcome Back!

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