Friday, July 13, 2012

Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company back in the habit with 'Nunsense'

The Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company opens its 42nd season of professional theatre at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse in North Conway, N.H. with "Sister Amnesia's Country Western Nunsense Jamboree," the third installment in Dan Goggin's immensely popular "Nunsense" series.

The original "Nunsense" opened off-Broadway in 1985 and became an international sensation translated into at least 26 languages with more than 8,000 productions worldwide. Goggin, to date, has written seven sequels including a Christmas and all-male show. The Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company did the Las Vegas-themed "Nunsenations" in 2006.

If you've seen one "Nunsense" show, you've seen them all. Each one features a group of nuns from Hoboken, N.J. cracking jokes, singing and interacting with the audience for two hours. The plot of "Nunsense Jamboree" focuses on the singing sisters hitting the road in promotion of Sister Amnesia's new country western album.

The "Nunsense" concept originated as a line of greeting cards, which makes sense as the jokes are on the level of the lame punchlines and puns that are common in greeting cards. How much you'll enjoy a "Nunsense" show depends on how high your tolerance for Christian jokes is.

"Some people think it's fluff and worthless," Goggin said in a 1996 New York Times article. "It is fluff but it ain't worthless."

The "Nunsense" series is lazy, but in its simplicity it is a crowd pleaser. This is theater for people who don't normally go to theater. It is non-demanding and non-challenging. A "Nunsense" show makes something like "The Music Man" seem like "MacBeth."

As Semina De Laurentis, the original Sister Amnesia, noted in the same New York Times article: "Because of 'Nunsense' we see people developing as theater-goers. These shows are bringing them in."

This production, which is playing through July 24, stars Jill Twiss as Sister Amnesia, Liz Wasser as Sister Mary Wilhelm, local girl Emilie Jensen as Sister Mary Leo, Jennifer Lauren Brown as Sister Robert Anne and Ryan Murvin as Father Virgil.

It is an amicable cast featuring high energy and strong vocals. The show stealer, though, is Brown as a tough talking nun from Brooklyn. With a New York accent and a sassy attitude, she commands the stage with songs like "A Cowgirl from Canarsie." The highlight of the show, at least musically, is "Growing Up in Brooklyn," which Brown makes a sweet, funny and tender ballad.

The best songs of the show are the ones that don't push too hard for the jokes or force the Christian message. "Seven A.M. in Phoenix" is a song that sister Mary Wilhelm sings to Sister Mary Leo to convince her to not give up being a nun, but it is also a beautiful ballad about not letting fear prevent you from being with someone or doing something you love. Wasser does a lovely job singing it.

The cast is given a fun barn set designed by Kenneth John Verdugo to play in. The rest of technical aspects are also in good form with solid lighting design from Victoria Miller and costume design from Barbara Erin Delo.

I'll be the first to admit that "Nunsense" is not for me. Reviewing the content of a "Nunsense" show seems moot. This isn't great or even good theater, but with the right cast and good direction it can be high energy fun.

Luckily, the Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company's production has both. Director and choreographer Richard Sabellico, musical director Michael Hopewell and the cast do a good job of making sense out of the nonsense that is "Nunsense."

For more information or tickets call 356-5776 or visit

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