Walter Mencken 9 a.m., May 23
The Divine Sister at Diversionary
Okay, Audrey Hepburn in The Nun's Story, Ingrid Bergman in Bells of St. Mary's, Greer Garson, The Singing Nun, Roz Russell, The Trouble With Angels. And, of course, Charles Busch in The Divine Sister
Whoa. Wait. What?
Busch, the legendary drag queen, who may love movies - especially bad ones - more than life itself, never met a sacred cow he couldn't skewer. In 87 minutes, his campy vaudeville roasts Hollywood's popular movies about nuns, and yet somehow marbles them, though not necessarily religion, with reverence.
It's Pittsburgh, mid-1960s. St. Veronica's Catholic school is falling apart, financially and literally. The Mother Superior's torn between the old and the new. She needs a new facility but also believes that "we are living in a time of great social change; we must do everything in our power to stop it!"
One possible fundraiser: tap super-rich Mrs. Levinson (who turns out to be an atheist, not a Jew, and so ardent in her non-belief she thinks agnostics are wishy-washy).
Either her or the postulant named Agnes (of God?). She has miraculous healing powers and can see visions, even on a boy's soiled briefs.
Mother Superior didn't always wear a wimple. In a previous life she was Hildy Johnson-class newspaper reporter for the Daily Graphic (Busch plays double homage to Roz Russell, in Trouble With Angels and His Girl Friday). But then again, everyone in this goofy scenario has a past, joined to each other, and Busch leaves no connection unplugged.
Rosalind Russell said "acting is standing up naked and turning around very slowly."
Even exaggerated, agitated acting. Divine Sister calls for a heightened, theatrical style. Ably directed by Glenn Paris, the Diversionary cast performs as if to the style born.
From his entrance on a bicycle - huh? Mother Superior's a guy? - to his richly deserved applause at the curtain call, Daren Scott's a wall-to-wall hoot as the Good Mother (imagine Joe Orton playing the one in Sound of Music and you get the picture). At the same time, and this is no mean feat, Scott somehow makes her sympathetic.
Maggie Carney's as funny as she is adept. She turns Mrs. Levinson's monologues into arias of hilarious self-dramatization. Lauren King does such a Jekyll/Hyde flip - from budding saint to scabrous sinner - it's hard to believe she's playing both. Dangerfield G. Moore has the crisp banter of noir leading men down pat.
It's easy to take the talents of Jacque Wilke and Yolanda Franklin for granted. As Sister Walburga (a Cher-mann nun) and Sister Acacius (the school's wrestling coach whose libido puts a choke hold on her vow of chastity), both add fresh new examples of their amazing versatility.
They frolic on Matt Scott's stained-glass windowed set, nicely lit by Luke Olson, and they sport Corey Johnson's costumes, from B&W sister-wear to Mrs. Levinson's ersatz finery.
Divine Sister probably needs a Surgeon General's Warning: Charles Busch satirizes religion - make that religions, all of them - and includes a revisionist history of the New Testament.
It may have no redeeming social value.
And it's a scream.
Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard, University Heights, playing through June 30.
More like this:
- Review: I Am Divine: The True Story of the Most Beautiful Woman in the World — Sept. 27, 2013
- The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabbler at Diversionary — April 15, 2013
- Learn to be Latina at Diversionary — Nov. 23, 2011
- Update Little Falls, 10/17/2009 — Oct. 17, 2009
- The Late Long-time Queen of the Cafe Critics — Nov. 23, 2005