Dan Goggin’s goofy musical “Nunsense,” now at Hale Center Theater Orem, is about a group of nuns who must put on a show in order to raise money to bury a bunch of their sisters who died after eating bad soup at the convent.
Fifty-two died; only 48 were buried, though, before the Mother Superior spent the rest of the convent’s money on a DVD player. Until the burial money is raised, the remaining four dead nuns are being kept in the freezer — until the Board of Health finds out, that is.
If this sounds like an extraordinarily distasteful storyline for a musical, well, you’re right. (I won’t even mention the part where one of the nuns accidentally gets high on inhalants.) But its outlandishness can be forgiven when presented in such a whimsical, giddily morbid fashion. There is something inherently funny about seeing women dressed in full nun regalia dancing around like the Rockettes (one of them even does a cartwheel!), and you have to respect a show about nuns that, by its own admission, never stoops to doing “penguin jokes.”
“Nunsense” is the name of the show that five of the surviving nuns are putting on, and we are their audience for that show (they therefore assume we’re all Catholic, by the way). We also see some behind-the-scenes drama, though, as the street-wise Sister Mary Robert Anne wants to do her own number; Sister Mary Amnesia struggles to remember who she was before a crucifix fell on her and wiped out her memory; Sister Mary Leo wants to be a ballerina; and Sister Mary Hubert wants to be Mother Superior.
There are some wonderful jokes and one-liners. While thumbing through the convent’s cookbook “Baking with the Blessed Virgin Mary,” they find Mary Magdalene Tarts, which two of the sisters observe must be “easy and cheap” to make.
The only potential problem with the show is its mockery, sometimes gentle and sometimes quite pointed, of Catholicism. When it’s being done by Catholics for a Catholic audience, everyone can laugh together. But there’s something uneasy about Mormons making fun of Catholics for a Mormon audience — and the fact that the Mormon audience laughs really hard at it. I would bet that if Catholics did a show in this valley making fun of Mormonism, it wouldn’t go over very well. People would get all huffy and righteously indignant and say, “How dare you make fun of our religion,” and “That’s just not funny.” (Of course, in an ideal world, everyone would just take the joke and be fine with it.) I’d be curious to see a Catholic’s reaction to “Nunsense,” as performed by LDS people in an LDS community.
The show is double-cast, and two of the Friday performers were filling in when I saw it on a Thursday. This makes reviewing individual performers difficult, because while some of the onstage chemistry was a bit off, it’s probably because members of both casts, not used to working together, had to work together (which is Reason No. 1 not to double-cast your show — or if you do, to keep the casts separate.)
Ignoring any notions of religious implications or political correctness, the show is audaciously funny, deftly staged and directed by Sister Mary Syd Riggs (as the program calls her), and energetically performed by five women in costumes that are probably nun-too-cool to be hopping around in.
One of the most amusing aspects of this show was the program, in which every cast and crew member's name was preceded by "Sister Mary." So the director was "Sister Mary Syd Riggs" (just Syd Riggs in real life), and the costumes came from "The Order of Archive Costumes, Orem, Utah Diocese." I enjoy cleverness in a show's program.