"Nunset Boulevard" a Bit Tired
By Geary Danihy
Alas, the nuns are getting a bit tired…or at least the premise of nuns cutting up like, well, regular people, is wearing a bit thin.
“Nunsense,” created by Dan Goggin, first appeared on the scene in 1986 and justifiably won a host of awards. Since then there have been seven iterations, the latest being “Nunset Boulevard,” which recently opened at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport.
Written and directed by Goggin, the show has the five remaining members (make that five and a half) of the Little Sisters of Hoboken being booked to appear at the Hollywood Bowl only to find that it’s actually the Hollywood Bowlarama. Making the best of a bad situation, the sisters proceed to sing and dance, do imitations of famous movie actors and run two audience-interactive contests.
That’s about it. The series never was heavy on plot – not much was needed – but in “Boulevard” the best Goggin can come up with is the song “The Plot,” which unabashedly proclaims that there is no plot. Hence, what we are left with is the good sisters cracking wise and living off the hope that those in the audience will be familiar enough with the initial premise to go along with the joke, such as it is.
The show does have its moments, many of them created by Jeanne Tinker, who plays Sister Mary Paul, aka Sister Amnesia. Tinker’s mobile face and somewhat flat-footed gait ably convey the good sister’s confusion and naïveté as she works the audience in the first game show, “Sisters in the Cinema” and assists contestants as they bowl with a frozen turkey in “The Price is Righteous.” Both skits are enjoyable because Tinker and the other actresses are allowed a certain latitude in ad-libbing, which gives life to the goings on.
Such is not the case with the scripted portion of the show: the jokes are, for the most part, stale or belabored and the musical numbers, save for “The Bowling Ball Blues,” pedestrian.
A quote from the show’s program is revealing. Written by Goggin, the director’s notes offer this: “Just when I thought the Little Sisters of Hoboken had done it all, my agent called and asked if I could write a show about the Sisters going to Hollywood.” It sounds like a schoolboy getting an essay assignment from a teacher. You can almost hear the sigh and the mumbled “Not again.” I sense that Goggin approached the keyboard with a heavy heart and a heavier hand.
The cast does what it can with the material, and there are flickers of the old Nunsense’s delightful silliness. In scenes titled “The Hollywood Blondes,” “The Casting Call,” “The Screen Test” and “Whatever Happened To…” the sisters get to do imitations of actors and actresses and take-offs on familiar films. Laurie Birmingham as Rev. Mother Mary Regina truly shines here, both as Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard” and a dead-on Bette Davis (complete with smeared lipstick) in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”
However, there’s just not enough of what made the original “Nunsense,” and some of the sequels, so enjoyable. In fact, the evening actually drags, something that is deadly for a show like this. There are a lot of false starts and set-ups that go nowhere, including Sister Mary Annette’s (the nun-puppet with a mouth aching to be washed out with soap) cameo appearance. She shows up, has a couple of lines, and then sadly disappears. The show could have used some of her earthiness.
The rest of the cast – Lisa Asher as Sister Robert Anne, Bambi Jones as Sister Mary Hubert and Stephanie Wahl as Sister Mary Leo – do their best with what they are given to work with. There are some saccharine ballads for them to sing that slow down the proceedings, and poor Sister Robert Anne is called upon to set the stage at the start of the show with premise-setting announcements, about as flat and uninspiring an opening (not Asher’s fault) as one can imagine.
Fortunately, the Cabaret is a “Bring your own…” venue. With enough pizza or egg rolls in you, and a sufficient quantity of your beverage of choice consumed, there is merriment to be had. After all, everything looks and sounds better after a couple of glasses of cabernet.
“Nunset Boulevard” runs through Sunday, April 17. For tickets or more information call 203-576-1636 or go to www.downtowncabaret.org.
review originally appeared in the Norwalk Citizen-News.