Those Nuns Shtick It To Us Again

Kristen Bohr, Douglas Leland, Anita Hollander, Terri Frazzee and  Andrea McCullough

Ok. I give up. It makes no sense to fight the Nunsense juggernaut. There are now a series of five, count 'em, five plays in the Nunsense product line. Last year the Surflight did the first play in the series, Nunsense. This year it skips the middle three to give us the fifth entry in the series, Meshuggah-Nuns.

This time the nuns are on the "Faiths of All Nations Cruise" where a production of Fiddler on the Roof is among the planned entertainment. The problem is that a terrible storm has rendered the cast seasick and unable to go on. Well, one member of the troupe was providentially spared, Howard Liszt, the actor who was to star as Tevye. At the behest of the captain he and the nuns organize a revue that forms the basis of the play.

The addition of the Liszt character allows playwright Dan Goggin to mine the rich vein of Jewish humor in addition to working the Catholic side of the street. In hindsight it's surprising he didn't hit upon the idea sooner.

If only out of morbid curiosity I'd like to see what the Goggin did with the three incarnations I haven't seen. Because this fifth installment certainly seems to have milked the concept dry.

Oh the play is charming and funny and the audience seemed to have a good time. And I have to admit that I had a pretty good time too. But the comedy definitely seemed to be gasping for air, viz.,  Sister Amnesia doing her Sister Mary Annette puppet bit with the puppet dressed up like Mae West: "He asked me if I smoked after sex. I said I never looked." That joke is so old, as we used to say in the neighborhood, the last time I heard it I fell off my dinosaur. And that wasn't the only golden oldie. I really was surprised that Goggin so shamelessly filled the script with jokes that have been circulating for decades. Then again, my friend Irene pointed out that that's exactly the kind of humor cruise ship shows inflict upon their audiences. So maybe Goggin was just trying for authenticity.

The cast carried on gamely however. Anita Hollander, Andrea McCullough and Kristen Bohr all reprised the roles they played in last year's Nunsense. Mother Superior, however, was played by Surflight newcomer Terri Frazee, the role played so ably last time out by Susie Speidel. Another newcomer was Douglas Leland, whom I liked so much in Showboat, here playing Howard Liszt.

Frazee was every bit the equal of her sister nuns. (Hmm, sister nuns. Is that redundant?) At the season opening gala in May Frazee sang such a stirring and energetic rendition of "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" from Anything Goes that I just assumed she would be the one to sing it in the play. She wasn't even in Anything Goes. The actress who sang it just wasn't available for the opening gala. They made the right choice having her carry the ball on that tune. She's very good.

Leland's Howard Liszt, on the other hand, seemed a little bit umm... listless. (Oh man, now Goggin's got me doing it!) After playing the dynamic Cap'n Andy in Showboat he seemed sedate and a bit tentative here.

And perhaps I sound a bit tentative here too. I make up my own mind about things. That's what a critic is supposed to do, after all. But I have to admit that my own tepid enthusiasm for Meshuggah-Nuns stands in stark contrast to the rave reviews it's gotten and the enthusiastic response the opening night crowd gave it. In my review of Nunsense last year I quoted my dad's old question, "Is the world out of step with Johnny or is Johnny out of step with the world?" In other words, am I the one who sees this sometimes hackneyed vehicle for what it really is or am I just an odd man out who can't see what everybody seems to see in this highly acclaimed play?

Heaven only knows.

At the Surflight September 8 - 18, 2004 at 8:00 pm; September 12, 15, 16 and 19 at 2:00 pm.  No performance September 13 and 14.