The Divine Sister – Good Habits
A REVIEW BY PANDORA LOCKS
The Divine Sister is billed as a spoof of “every nun movie ever made,” including Doubt, Agnes of God, and The Trouble with Angels. Unfortunately, my knowledge of nun movies is limited to The Sound of Music and Mermaids (Cher and Winona Ryder- look it up, it’s not that bad, I swear). So although I know how to solve a problem like Maria, I didn’t get some of these nods. Maybe that was my disconnect, because, as the play started, several patrons laughed like Kevin Hart and Dave Chapelle were in the house, so. What do I know.
A Pittsburgh is falling into disrepair and times are tough for nuns. They have a zealot in their midst (Agnes, played by Anne Shoemaker) who says she can perform miracles, like interpreting piss stains, and emulating stigmata. But they lack the funds to move forward, so an expert from the mothership in Germany (Sister Walburga, played by Kathryne Daniels) is called in. There’s a strange, fanatical sub-plot about Jesus having an older sister, but it’s loose at best, a bit Scooby-Doo-ish at worst, and unresolved at the conclusion of the play. The show is no doubt funny, laughable, but then, dick jokes are always funny, especially when a nun is convulsing against a wall (you go Holly Gibbs) while a man expounds upon his appendage.
If you need a compelling reason to see this play is, that reason is, without question, Steven Shriner. The rest of the cast holds up and pans out, but from the moment Shriner walks on he just fucking owns his Mother Superior role. He is so outlandishly prude, I dare you to watch him and not smile. I dare you. He transforms so completely that I hardly recognized him post show and out of penguin. His expressions, timing, and deadpan nunning are spot on. Mother takes no shit, but is still caring and compassionate, unlike her counterpart, Sister Acacius (Holly Gibbs). Their exchanges and interactions are pure gold, some of the best in the play.
But like I said, there are several gems in this sparkly cast. Anne Shoemaker (Agnes) is so green and hopeful that you can’t help but love her, especially when she is stuffing her face full of geraniums. Her best comedic moments come from her attempt to leave for Hollywood, telling the nuns what she really thinks as she blows town. Kathryne Daniels, as Sister Walburga, is German and severe, as we would expect (when she shifts to Mrs. Macduffie though, there needs to be a bigger mark in her accent). Lynda McClary (Mrs. Levinson) is a joy, from her outrageous vintage costumes for an heiress (nice work there Anthony Lane Hinkle & Mary Bova), to her exaggerated rants, she’s uproarious. I adored her Timothy, a small child with no athletic ability, no friends, and some bi-curious tendencies. The doubling works seamlessly due to some amazing physical and aesthetic work on her part, so brava. Tom Lodge (Brother Venerius/Jermemy, that ‘s how it was spelled in the program, with an extra m- I have no idea) didn’t shine in comparison here, his timing is a bit off and he doesn’t pull the LOLs he could.
The set by Roy Steinman is simple but feels cumbersome. There are four large panels on wheels that are constantly being moved and locked into place by a plethora of stagehands. Where does one find this free and excessive labor? The giant set leads to a lot of down time in the transitions and I just think more could have been accomplished with less fuss. And then there were the lights. (Achilles Feels would have had to excuse himself). After sitting in the dark, watching the stagehands fuddle around for a solid eternity, the lights would indeed come back up, but first there was an audible ten seconds of gels flipping before the right one was found.
BOTTOM LINE: You don’t have to be Catholic to know when you’ve seen a miracle, and The Divine Sister is one. Steven Shriner turns in a campy, wonderful, dragalicious Mother Superior, and he and the supporting cast are howlingly hilarious. Tech could have been tighter, but all in all, the show has its shit together. It’ll make you laugh. And who doesn’t need a laugh right now?
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