"The Divine Sister" at the Soho Playhouse, September 20, 2010
Posted by Mondschein
Charles Busch returns to the NY stage with his latest effort, leading his mash-up tale of nuns in a Pittsburgh convent. The Divine Sister plumbs the borders of The Sound of Music, Agnes of God, Doubt, Song of Bernadette, and Nunsense wrapped up in a strong dose of Where Angels Go Trouble Follows.
The jokes are broader than the Hudson, and the "broads" are among the widest Mr. Busch has written to date.
The absurd plot, of a convent/school in early 1960s Pittsburgh on financial skids includes a new member, Sister Walburga (Alison Fraser), imported from Germany to help with fund-raising )or does she have a plan of her own??). Mother Superior (Mr. Busch) and her BFF and second in command, Sister Acacius (Julie Halston) have decided to approach the rich Jewish, agnostic widow, Mrs. Levinson (Jennifer Van Dyck) to donate her home to the order until a new school can be built. One problem facing the order is that the postulant Agnes (Amy Rutberg) has a tendency toward miracles, healings and stigmata-ism, bringing unwanted publicity. Like any good catholic story, there are multiple mother-child relationships hidden behind secret adoptions, accented by occasion musical numbers dubbed as badly as any Italian western out there, and a couple of flashback scenes to Mother Superior's previous life as a crime reporter in the 1940s. Plots twist and all is revealed to a comic effect only conceivable by Mr. Busch - a lost book of the bible, the Gospel of Saint Gladys which tells the story of the Jesus' sister Joyce - the titular Divine Sister. Brilliant!
Director Carl Andress manages to keep the larger than life performances within the confines of the small Soho Playhouse stage, but one can tell that was not an easy job. He never shies away from a bawdy choice, or bathroom humor - Noel Coward, this ain't.
The Divine Sister is on an open-ended run, but don't wait to see it.
As the Mother Superior, Mr. Busch is in his highest Rosalind Russell form - an Auntie Mame in a habit. Ms. Halston has a bit more stretching to do but pulls it off as Sister Acacius, MS' closest ally and confidant. Ms. Fraser is all but unintelligible as the overly accented Teutonic sister. Her attempted seduction of Sister Acacius is hysterical. When Acacius talks about spending time with her husband (Jesus, y'know?) before bed, Walburga suggests luridly, "Perhaps ze sree of us should get togezzer sometime."