Busch at play at St. Veronica's
By Jeffrey Borak
Berkshire Eagle Staff
HUDSON,N,Y. For all it's calculatedly outrageous originality and style, there is something wearingly familiar about Charles Busch's "The Divine Sister," his newest work, which is being given an ably mounted and acted production at Stageworks/Hudson, the play's first regional theater production, in fact, since the end of its hugely successful Off· Broadway run in May.
"The Divine Sister" is less a send-up of the Catholic Church than it is a send-up of movies, plays, musicals and books ("The Da Vinci Code," "Doubt," "Nunsense" are among the references) that use the Church in one way or another.
The story' - yes, there is a story - has to do with the efforts of Mother Superior (a glorious Steven Polito in the role Busch created for himself in New York) is desperately trying to save her convent, St. Veronica's, from being shut down and demolished. She is looking for help from an atheistic Jewish philanthropist, named Mrs. Levinson (a fine Molly Parker-Myers who more than rises to the occasion in an astonishing monologue that ends with a perfectly timed punch line), who rattles around alone in a 50 room house which Mother Superior covets as a new home and school for her convent.
Thrown into the mix are an ingenuous young postulate named Agnes (well done by Amanda A. Lederer), who eats flowers, hears voices, has visions of saints (most recently amid the stains in a boy's underpants) and claims healing powers; Sister Sacacious (Louise Pillai), the Brooklyn accented director of novices and coach of the St. Veronica wrestling team: a visiting sister from Germany, the heavily Teutonic Sister Maria Walburga (Sarah Dacey Charles), who, it turns out, is a spy for a secret Catholic order who has been sent to St. Veronica to help protect the sarcophagus secreted away in an underground vault that is watched over by a white albino dwarf named Venerius (Doug Trapp); an ex-journalist named Jeremy (also Trapp), who's at St. Veronica's on behalf of a big Hollywood studio in the hope of obtaining the rights to Agnes' story.
Polito is perfectly cast as Mother Superior, a character who is both larger than life and lifelike, often at once. Polito can neatly summon up the wide eyed melodramatic dimensions of Gloria Swanson's 'Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard" while also catching a coquettish vulnerability. It's a deliciously subversive performance that plays with the audience with a shameless audacity.
These days, laughter, no matter how fitful the circumstances, is a very good thing
The Divine Sister @ Stageworks
By Michael Eck Special To The Times Union
Published: July 30, 2011
HUDSON – In the midst of a summer season that hasn't really seemed able to let its hair down, "The Divine Sister" is — mixed metaphors be damned — a breath of fresh air. Even better is the fact that it doesn't laugh with nuns, it laughs at them.
"Sister" is Charles Busch's latest success and Stageworks is giving it a randy, absolutely irreverent production through August 7.
Busch usually dons drag for his own shows, but here funny man Stephen Polito — better known to the world by his nom de com, Hedda Lettuce — plays Mother Superior. She's the boss babe of St. Veronica's, a dumpy Pittsburgh school that is falling down in more ways than one. The good mother is surrounded by a motley group of penguins which includes the postulate Agnes (Amanda A. Lederer), who hears saintly voices in her head; the whacked-out Sister Acacious (Louise Pillai), who pines for her younger, pre-celibate days; and the frighteningly German Sister Maria Walburga (Sarah Dacey Charles) who has arrived at St. Veronica's with orders from above, or at least from the mother church.
Director Billy Kimmel makes no efforts to soften Busch's blows, or to add any class or grace to the proceedings; and we thank God for small favors. This is comedy at its broadest with sex, sin and flatulence as frequent targets.
And Catholicism isn't the only faith that takes a beating — Busch is nothing if not an equal opportunity offender.
Polito brings a wonderful comic timing to his role, mainly in the way that he pauses and poses before milking every punchline. And there are plenty of punchlines to milk.
True to form, Busch has based most of his play on classic movies. Often the dialogue feels pulled from old Mad Magazine spoofs of Hollywood. And Busch also nods to the insanity of that other cross-dressing Charles, Charles Ludlam. A similar zaniness, fearlessness and willingness to go below the bottom line infests both men's work.
Doug Trapp, as Jeremy is the sole "male" in the play, and he appears as a reporter turned film scout (as well as doing double duty as Venerius, the mad priest in the basement of St. V's). Turns out Jeremy had a past with Superior when she was just Susan. It also turns out that just about every character in the play had a past involving someone else on the set and much of the second act's comedy is driven by untangling the mess of identities. Molly Parker-Myers is also funny pulling double duty as the wealthy Mrs. Levinson and the prepubescent schoolboy Timothy.
There is nothing socially redeeming about "The Divine Sister," which just may be its selling point.
If you're easily offended, be sure to attend. It's the best laugh everyone else will have all summer.