Nunsense

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Hale Centre Theatre’s “Nunsense” is wacky theater for the masses. It has audience participation, local references and — get thee to a punnery! — enough one-liners and wordplay to single-handedly revive vaudeville.

Dan Goggin’s much-produced, mildly disrespectful musical is about five nuns putting on a variety show to raise money to bury the sisters who died from eating poisoned soup (cooked by convent chef Sister Julia, Child of God).

JaNae Gibbs Cottam plays Sister Mary Regina, the plump Mother Superior who governs the show with a no-nonsense attitude. Cottam is a charming and funny performer, and a good straight-nun against the lunacy that surrounds her.

Her main foil is Sister Mary Hubert (Camille Gerber VanWagoner), who trains new recruits and opposes many of Regina’s decisions (such as using the burial funds to buy a DVD player for the convent). There is a wonderfully comic moment when the two burly sisters face off at center stage like a Catholic “Clash of the Titans.”

Randi Harrington-Bruse very nearly steals the show (and provides it with what emotional center it has) as Sister Mary Amnesia, the nun who lost her memory after being whacked on the head with a crucifix. Harrington-Bruse is a treat to watch, displaying her comedic skills most prominently in a scene she does with a puppet called Sister Mary Annette (say it out loud).

Rounding out the cast are Sharon Lynn Kenison as the street-wise Sister Mary Robert Anne and Amy Jo Fisher as novice nun Sister Mary Leo. Kelly DeHaan is the priest pianist, Father Knowles Best, leading a live band called the Three Hale Marys.

The in-the-round staging, directed by Annette Wright, is a bit awkward at times, as actresses giving monologues are forced to spin around a lot as they talk. Marilyn May Montgomery’s choreography is lively, but it’s hard for it to reach its full potential when each actress must face a different direction.

These problems are not insurmountable, though. The show endears itself to the audience in a very basic, natural way: It makes them laugh. Some of the added jokes are extremely funny (we’ll ignore the so-five-minutes-ago “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” references), especially in a slide show of the nuns’ trip to Salt Lake City, which included a visit to the “Mormon castle” at Temple Square, where they “knocked and knocked on the door, but no one would ever let us in.”

Should you go? It’s not sophisticated comedy, but it is often clever and usually funny.

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