Nunsensical production hits the stage

From left, Sister Mary Hubert (Allenda Jenkins),  Sister Robert Anne (Sue Riney), Sister Mary Amnesia (K. Sandra O’Brien) and Sister Mary Leo (Elizabeth Booth) launch into a musical number for the Whidbey Playhouse production of “Nunsense,” beginning June 5.  - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
From left, Sister Mary Hubert (Allenda Jenkins), Sister Robert Anne (Sue Riney), Sister Mary Amnesia (K. Sandra O’Brien) and Sister Mary Leo (Elizabeth Booth) launch into a musical number for the Whidbey Playhouse production of “Nunsense,” beginning June 5.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

It was an easy show for director Rusty Hendrix to pull off. With a simple plot and few set constraints, all that’s truly required are five singing actresses who can charm an audience.

Using an updated scripture, the ladies of “Nunsense” have answered Hendrix’s prayer.

Whidbey Playhouse delivers a version of Dan Goggin’s “Nunsense” that is silly as ever, strewn with unapologetic puns and cleverly improvised lines.

“Nunsense” concerns the efforts of the five remaining nuns from the Little Sisters of Hoboken to bury the last few nuns in the convent who died from an accidental mass poisoning by Sister Julia (Child of God). A tainted vichyssoise soup killed 52 of the residents during bingo night.

“It was kind of like the Last Supper,” Sister Mary Hubert (Allenda Jenkins) jokes.

The Hoboken sisters could only afford to bury 48, after Mother Superior (Mary K. Hallen) splurged on a plasma TV.

The remaining nuns are being kept on ice in the freezer until the funds can be raised via a variety show. The audience is “sitting in the gym” of the Mount St. Helen’s School during the benefit. Choreographed by Daunne Zinger, the nuns present madcap dance routines (ballet, jazz, tap, the monkey), ventriloquism and a quiz. Of course, the efforts of these adorable nuns often goes wrong as they proceed with the show.

The surviving nuns consist of the stern Mother Superior; Sister Robert Anne (Sue Riney), a nun from the wrong side of the tracks; Sister Mary Amnesia (K. Sandra O’Brien), the scatter-brained amnesia victim,; second-in-command Sister Mary Hubert; and the newbie, Sister Mary Leo (Elizabeth Booth).

From the very opening of the show, it’s clear these women are dead-locked into character. Hallen delivers the obligatory “turn off your cell phone” speech in a haughty Irish accent and Sister Amnesia can be seen wandering the aisles at intermission, striking up confused conversations about Applebee’s.

Booth is amusingly dotty in her role as Sister Leo. During her dance number for “Soup’s On: The Dying Nun Ballet,” she mixes physical gags with actual technical skill.

For Riney, this is her fourth time performing in a “Nunsense” production. She also starred in the original version at the playhouse 15 years ago. Each of the women is a vocal talent, but Riney’s final high note in the solo “I Just Wanna Be a Star,” is so emotive, you almost forget it’s a comedy.

Otherwise, “Nunsense” is packed with humor, from the stern Mother Superior giddily succumbing to the fumes of airplane glue left in the high school bathroom to Sister Amnesia’s spontaneous banter.

Even with its jeers at Catholicism, there’s an underlying affection for the faith that the women were able to capture. The best word for it is “fun,” Hendrix said.

Her new rendition of “Nunsense” is the perfect light, summer play with a cast that’s eager to entertain. And as they belt out in their opening song, although they’re on their way to heaven, these nuns are here to raise some hell.

Get your tickets now

Tickets for “Nunsense” are now available at the Box office, 730 SE Midway Blvd., in Oak Harbor or by calling 360-679-2237. The show opens June 5 and runs through June 28. Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows are at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees begin at 2:30 p.m. Since the show is expected to sell out, the playhouse added two extra Wednesday shows June 17 and 24 at 7:30 p.m. and an extra Sunday matinee June 28 at 2:30 p.m. All tickets are reserved seating and are priced at $16.

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