BWW Reviews: HotCity Theatre's Side-Splitting Production of THE DIVINE SISTER
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by Chris Gibson
If Die!Mommy!Die lovingly skewers swinging suburbia, then The Divine Sister is a swift kick to the groin of Catholicism and religion in general. Like his twin son from a different mother, filmmaker John Waters, playwright Charles Busch is adept at crafting overwrought melodramatic tales that are hilarious to some, and offensive to others. I fall into the former category, thoroughly enjoying his playfully perverse creations. HotCity Theatre has put together another holiday alternative with their production of this controversial and side-splitting work.
The Mother Superior of a rundown church in Pittsburgh, in 1966, is mash-up of every singing nun that you've encountered, filled with optimism and hope, despite the fact that the church is on the brink of disaster. She and Sister Acacius are doing what they can to raise funds, including visiting the home of the agnostic Mrs. Levinson, but have come short. But, there's a young novice in their order, named Sister Agnes, that's seeing visions in underwear stains, and who claims to have the power to heal. She's attracted the interest of the church in the guise of the very-German Sister Walburga, and of Hollywood in the presence of Jeremy. Of course, it just so happens that Jeremy knew The Mother Superior when she was a tough-talking reporter, and, naturally, he was in love with her. The plot thickens, considerably, with more twists and turns than a carnival ride.
John Flack is outstanding as Mother Superior, abandoned at birth, and giving up the glamorous life of a reporter to take the vows. Her/His British-inflected English leads to one of the funniest gags when two simple words are misconstrued as a graphic insult. Kirsten Wylder is brilliant as the tough-as-nails Sisters Acasia, who seems a bit challenged by her vow of celibacy. Alyssa Ward delights as the deranged Sister Agnes, and Susie Wall is a riot as the overly fashion-conscious Mrs. Levinson. Wall also takes on the role of Timmy, a little boy at the church who seems a bit fey, but proves his manhood. Lavonne Byers is a trip as Sister Walburga, a nun who's not who she seems to be, and she's also good as the hunchbacked Mrs. MacDuffie, a cleaner who unlocks some important secrets. Chopper Liefheit is excellent as Jeremy, bringing a great deal of enthusiasm to the role. His description of his genitals is worth the price of admission. He also does nice work as Brother Vernerius, who's working in cahoots with Sister Walburga on a nefarious scheme.
Marty Stanberry's direction is deliciously over the top, bringing these larger than life characters to the stage with an assured hand. James Holborow's scenic design conjures up the church, and neatly changes to reflect Mrs. Levinson's house. Maureen Berry's lighting is properly dramatic, giving the proceedings added depth. Jane Sullivan's costumes fit the era portrayed perfectly. Patrick Burk's sound design heightens the action with snippets of underscore and song.
If you've had enough of the typical holiday shows, then you should go to The Divine Sister. HotCity Theatre's terrific production continues through December 15th at the Kranzberg.