ATI back in the habit

By John Lyle Belden

“Nunsense” is habit forming – the clever slogan, and title of one of the show’s songs, is quite apt. A sure-fire crowd-pleaser since opening Off-Broadway nearly thirty-seven years ago, this musical by Dan Goggin has had thousands of productions worldwide, and the show’s official website has at least eight sequels and spin-offs if you want to see the Little Sisters of Hoboken doing something different. The more than 25,000 actors who have donned the habit could petition the Pope to be named their own order.

This is all to say that the classic “Nunsense,” done afresh this month by Actors Theatre of Indiana, may be a bit familiar to y’all reading this. If you haven’t seen the show, or at least not in a while, by all means, go! Goggins’ humor, with just a touch of absurdity, doesn’t get too sacred and is never profane. You don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate this, but if you are, be warned that Reverend Mother has her clicker!

The Little Sisters are in a bind, needing to raise funds quickly to bury deceased nuns (inadvertently poisoned by the convent cook), put on a show displaying their own varied talents. That’s all you need to know going in, as well as the fact that there will be a pop quiz – with prizes – at one point.

Suzanne Stark is our Rev. Mother, Sister Mary Regina. A veteran of nun roles in “Sound of Music” and “Sister Act,” she is right at home as the boss of this little sisterhood. Asserting her authority without coming off as stiff or mean, she guides this show with a steady hand – except when she doesn’t, in a hilarious encounter with a mysterious little bottle.

Illeana Kirven is Sister Mary Hubert, the second-ranking nun. She tackles this project with unflagging joyous energy, suppressing as best she can her feelings about Rev. Mother using part of their last windfall to buy a giant TV.

Katelyn Lauria is street-tough Sister Robert Ann, who drives (and repairs) the convent vehicle. Her gregarious style and frequent funny bouts of scene-stealing are nicely countered by the moment she describes her spiritual path, revealing genuine devotion.

Rachel Weinfeld is Sister Mary Leo, the novice who feels there’s room in her vows for also becoming a celebrated ballerina. Her dancing is sweet, her manner charming.

Stephanie Wahl is the ever-popular Sister Mary Amnesia, who can’t remember who she is, and is otherwise a few beads short of a rosary. Wahl, who is also dance captain, handles this special character well, keeping us laughing with her more than at her. She also does an excellent job wielding the puppet Sister Mary Annette.

Directed by Karen Sheridan with choreography by Anne Beck, this production also features the all-priest onstage band of Greg Wolf, Greg Gegogeine, and music director Jay Schwandt, as well as production assistant Gillian Norris lending a helping hand as a student from Mount St. Helens School.

See the Sisters sing and dance their way to their miracle in ATI’s season opener, through Sept 25 at the Studio Theater in the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. Get information and tickets at atistage.org or thecenterpresents.org.

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