by Beki Pineda

NUNSENSE – Written by Dan Goggin; Directed by Pat Payne. Produced by Candlelight Dinner Playhouse (4747 Marketplace, Johnstown) through March 3. Tickets available at coloradocandlelight.com or 970-744-3747.

It has been a long time since I’ve seen this silly show. I think the last one was at the Country Dinner Playhouse – that’s how long ago that was! So it was refreshing and fun to revisit Mount St. Helen’s convent and the Little Sisters of Hoboken. For those of you who have never seen any of the long string of productions in the NUNSENSE franchise, they all revolve around the nuns need to raise money to bury their poor dead sisters of God who ate tainted food prepared by their convent chef, Sister Julia, Child of God. They have put together this little show as a fundraiser for funeral money. They proceed to sing original songs, dance in a kick line, tell silly jokes (“How do you make holy water?”), do ballet (one nun is a ballerina for God) and bicker among themselves.

Each nun is given a distinct personality. Sister Robert Anne (Sarah Grover) is a street-smart sister from Brooklyn who not only drives the convent car, she can strip it down faster than any guy on the street. But all she wants is “To Be a Star.” Sister Mary Amnesia (Lisa Kay Cartaer) got bonked on the head months ago by a falling crucifix and hasn’t been the same since. She loses her train of thought, is easily distracted, talks to a puppet, and just wants to sing country music. One very funny bit involving her happens during a cooking segment during which the nuns are trying to sell Sister Julia, Child of God’s cookbook. They try to distract Sister Mary Amnesia by telling her that an angel came by, picked up something they were trying to dispose of, and flew away with it. The rest of the scene she kept looking offstage and in the rafters for the angel; her timing in this little gem of a bit is impeccable. Sister Mary Leo (Abbie Hanawalt) is the ballerina complete with toe shoes under her habit and a tutu over it. Sister Mary Hubert (Heather McClain) is the Mistress of Novices and the Mother Superior’s right hand nun.

This particular roost is ruled by the Mother Superior(Samantha Jo Staggs). Not only does she deliver the most sarcastic one-liners directed at the other nuns, she is also the butt of jokes the other nuns deliver about her.  here is a loving but sarcastic camaraderie between this potent ensemble; no one is safe from jibes against their character and idiosyncracies. Sammy’s big booming voice rocks the room on more than one occasion. In the anachronistic ending to Act I, one of the nuns discovers some Rush in the girls locker room.  For those of you who don’t remember Rush from the 70’s, it was a kind of liquid aphrodisiac. The aroma was supposed to do amazing things to your libido and make your inhibitions relax. Well, it gets the MS higher than a kite and Sammy just runs with a freewheeling monologue complete with physical reactions, movie references, crawling around on the stage, and falling off the bar stools that are part of the set while calling “Free Willie!!” Her physicality will remind you of a combination of Carol Burnett and Melissa McCarthy. For that bit alone, she deserves a Henry award.

Luckily the playwrights have made it clear that this 1985 script can and should be adjusted to include more modern cultural references in future productions. So director Pat Payne with the help of his five nuns have developed a whole new set of gags with mention made of Star Wars movies, Lady Gaga, the Titanic movie, and more one-liners than you can remember but that bring tiny jolts of happiness as they are delivered.  tephen Bertles delivers on the choreography that makes full use of the nun’s habits and veils. The orchestra led by Phil Forman provides live music for the afternoon or evening’s performance.

My guest and I enjoyed the Chicken Parmesan and Lasagna dinners (although ask for a center selection from the lasagna – I kept biting into those crusty pasta bits that collect on the edges when you bake lasagna). The blueberry cobbler was delicious and the grape sorbet was like a tasty frozen grape soda. Also a clue for future ticket purchasers: try to get a seat no further back than Row D; otherwise you’re too far back to see the faces of the actors.  Candlelight delivers on another fine family theatre experience.

A WOW factor of 8.5!!