'Nunsense' trilogy concludes with country western jamboree
After an eight-year hiatus, Dan Goggin's “Nunsense” musical trilogy returns to the Mountain Playhouse on Tuesday with the third installment, “Sister Mary Amnesia's Country Western Nunsense Jamboree.”
Director Chan Harris says the show encompasses two things Playhouse audiences seem to cherish — humor and country music.
“In the last 10 years, we've seen a really huge country audience out here,” Harris says. The success of shows such as “Always … Patsy Cline,” “Honky-Tonk Angels” and “Ring of Fire” support that idea.
“It's a marriage of both worlds — concerts and country,” Harris says.
Fulfilling the concert element is a group of nuns led by Sister Mary Amnesia, a nun recovering from amnesia and living her dream of becoming a country-music singer.
“In my mind, you don't recover (from amnesia) quickly,” says Lisa Riegel, who is playing the role of Sister Mary Amnesia. “So often, she discovers things about herself. There's a moment where she discovered she can yodel. And then, she does. She can sing country music, and she knows she loves it, but that is pretty much the only solid thing she's got going on.”
Riegel is one of five actors who, according to Harris, have simplified his vision of the show.
Before rehearsals, he planned to work with the actors to be sure they understood the characters. The humor is one aspect, but he wanted to be sure he could make the characters real on stage.
“It's not worth doing if they're not real people,” he says. “But, truthfully, I don't have to work as hard as I expected, because the five people I hired are so freaking funny that I'm kind of leaving them alone.”
The actors are embracing the silly humor of the show and, as Riegel says, making her job of keeping a straight face on stage difficult.
“That is what happens with everything I do here,” she says. “My task in the show is to keep a straight face while everyone is sort of losing their minds around me.”
One of those nuns who is losing her mind is Sister Robert Anne, played by Susan Jacks. She says the “Nunsense” performances are great, because Goggin keeps the characters fresh through each show. In “Nunsense Jamboree,” for instance, audiences learn Sister Robert Anne has had a difficult childhood growing up in Brooklyn.
The nuns, who are far from preachy, are adored by audiences.
“You can see people you are in awe of, like nuns, in everyday circumstances and how they deal with life,” Jacks says. “They possess a spirituality many of us can't imagine. It's so sweet to see how they use their faith in a subtle way.”
But the show isn't isolated to the nuns on the stage. Riegel says it's important for audiences to realize they will encounter the interaction they have grown to love from the “Nunsense” shows.
“The audience will be taught the courses and then be fully expected and required to sing along,” she says with a laugh. “You're always engaged. The minute you sit back and become an audience member, some nun is going to grab you by the hand and ask you to participate.”
Tamara Girardi is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.