In what is perhaps the most appropriately named show in all of theater, Nunsense is the hilarious and irreverent holy mother of musical revues. A production that’s short on coherence and heavy on farce, Actors Cabaret of Eugene is revisiting this worldwide phenomenon after premiering the show on the West Coast nearly 33 years ago. Creator Dan Goggin first crafted the idea as a line of greeting cards, and then expanded his immaculate conception for the cabaret stage, making ACE a natural fit for this intimate comedy.
Directed by Ashely Apelzin and designed by Joe Zingo, Nunsense opens in the land of Danny and Sandy. A red and yellow checkered ’50s diner with vintage 45s surrounding a haloed portrait of the Virgin Mary makes for an unusual convent. The early explanation of an 8th grade play being the cause of the scenery makes things even more bewildering, but the fast-paced humor carries away whatever logical conclusions you might still be trying to hold on to.
Five thirsty, virtue-lacking little sisters of Hoboken (Kathy Bowman, Tessa Douangaphaivong, Katie Hammond, Erica Jean and Sue Schroder-White) guide us through a bizarre tale of the accidental death of 52 sisters and a shortage of cash for their burial. The result is a fundraising cross section of sloppy skits and musical numbers, each sillier than the next.
As a complement to the fictional fundraising, actual donation cans are set up around the theater for Ophelia’s Place, the local organization dedicated to helping young girls make healthy life decisions.
Before the lights go down, a few of the sisters make their way through the crowd — a little chit chat with the common folks before the incomparable Jean shows up with an Irish accent as Sister Mary Regina. The nuns refocus onstage, though never retreating fully behind the fourth wall — a real anxiety producer for those of us who prefer to hide when then audience is expected to publicly participate.
Hammond is fantastic as the Brooklyn-bent bad girl of the bunch. Her comedic timing on a motorcycle with training wheels is as perfect as her pitch in the mildly sweet “Growing Up Catholic.” Schroder-White is the endearing amnesiac who undercuts her naiveté with a foul-mouthed hand puppet in a cackle inducing scene in the first act.
Jean is as good as comedy gets, truly the best I’ve seen on a Eugene stage. She is the lifeblood of the sisters as well as the vampiric mistress behind the mayhem. Wide-eyed and donning a red boa, she is brilliantly funny.
Heavy Catholic jargon and the first Ed McMahon reference I’ve heard in 25 years make Nunsense a bit dated and irrelevant. The silliness is a little too hammering at times, leaving few breaths between belly laughs. An inherent lack of focus makes the plot hard to follow, and funny eventually slips into “What’s happening again?”
But see Nunsense for the sisters.
Nunsense runs through Feb. 15 at Actors Cabaret of Eugene. Tickets and info at ActorsCabaret.org.