The Little Sisters of Hoboken are a welcoming lot, meeting and greeting us audience members as we obediently file into the auditorium and locate our seats for the opening of Nunsense (book and music by Dan Goggin) at Ferndale Repertory Theatre. After all, some of us may have less-than-pleasant memories of the times we didn't follow the nuns' directions in school and, as one of the sisters pointedly notes, "we don't want a crabby Reverend Mother."
But a potentially disobedient audience is far from the greatest challenge these nuns have had to face. The sisters began their work at a leper colony, where most of them became infected and died — in one of their more colorful episodes, a race against the rival Protestant missionaries, one sister lost by a nose when her nose fell off. When the remainder returned to the United States, their resident cook and nascent cookbook author Sister Julia managed to kill off another 52 members of the order with her (evidently creative) vichyssoise, leaving the convent with some hefty expenses.
A fortuitous dose of divine intervention after that fateful "last supper" leads the sisters to start a greeting card company to raise funds for the burials. The venture is hugely successful and 48 of the deceased had been buried when the Reverend Mother is overcome by the temptation of a $4,000 TV for the convent, leaving four nuns still above ground. In a last-ditch attempt to raise the money for the final four burials, five of the surviving nuns decide to stage a musical benefit evening at the local high school before the health department finds out what's in their freezer. Welcome to Nunsense!
Mother Superior and former high-wire artiste Sister Mary Regina (a wickedly funny Bonnie Halverson) is in charge of handing out show assignments to her motley crew of performers, ably backed up — and sometimes challenged by — Mistress of Novices Sister Mary Hubert (Molly Severdia in tip-top vocal form and with a snarkily resentful edge). Innocent young novice Sister Mary Leo (a sweetly optimistic Alissa Morey) dreams of becoming the world's first ballerina nun, so she's the designated dancer in the troupe. Sister Mary Amnesia (Terry Desch in a delightfully daffy performance), so named because she mislaid her own assigned name after being hit on the head with a crucifix, wanders in childlike wonder through a variety of roles, from quizzing the audience about saints to singing a duet with a foul-mouthed puppet. Rounding out the quintet is streetwise Brooklynite Sister Mary Robert (the always entertaining Julie Angles), whom the Reverend Mother refuses to allow to perform a solo — hence her surreptitious appearance as the aforementioned foul-mouthed puppet.
Of course, many things go wrong during the show ("falling apart like the leper colony") but the sisters make it through to the finale, despite Mother Superior being sidelined after an unfortunate encounter with an illegal substance. And, miracle of miracles, Sister Mary Amnesia's memory returns as she re-enacts her previous life as a country singer. Which in turn produces a final act of divine intervention that means the Little Sisters of Hoboken will never have to worry about money again.
Linda Maxwell's choreography and Dianne Zuleger's musical direction keep the spotlight on the performers, allowing each to showcase their particular talents as well as ensemble skills. The scenic design by Cecilia Beaton cleverly brings out the contrast between the show the nuns are putting on and the set for the high school production of Chicago they're occupying for one evening. The band (Katharina Meerle Goodshield on keyboard, Amber Grimes on bass, Mike LaBolle and Matthew McClimon on drums, and Matt Beck on trumpet) is nicely integrated into the set, enabling the musicians to interact with the performers to good effect. The sound design by Dillon Savage is toe-tappingly fun, but Raymond Gutierrez' lighting design, while mostly appropriately atmospheric, is a little over enthusiastic in places. While designing costumes for a show about nuns is of necessity somewhat limiting, Cindy Shepard has added a few nice touches to the sisters' basic black attire, and Properties Designer Emilia Björk found some fun accoutrements to brighten up their acts.
Director Leira V. Satlof keeps the story flowing and the performers on their toes — sometimes literally — and the range of vocal styles incorporated into the show is really very impressive. Be prepared for a little audience participation but nothing challenging — and there are prizes! All five performers do a terrific job but particular shout-outs must go to Angles, Halverson and Desch, who are reprising roles they first played at the Ferndale theater in 1992 and still singing and dancing up a storm.
All in all, Nunsense is an entertaining production that will leave you smiling all the way home — and without a trace of Catholic guilt for having so much fun.
Ferndale Repertory Theatre's Nunsense continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through April 1. Call 786-5483 or visit www.ferndalerep.org.
Redwood Curtain Theatre's entertaining tale of jumping into relationships and friends jumping to conclusions, Women in Jeopardy!, runs through March 18 with shows Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Call 443-7688 or visit www.redwoodcurtain.com.
North Coast Repertory Theatre finds inspiration in a trio of young women who discover a bawdy manuscript during the Spanish Inquisition in The Tenth Muse, starting Thursday, March 15 at 8 p.m. and continuing Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through April 1. Call 442-6278 or visit www.ncrt.net.