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Splashy Laughs from Nunsense
Aux Dog Theatre

Also see Rob's review of The Sunshine Boys and Dean's review of The Underpants


Kir Kipness, Angela Littleton, and Lisa Fenstermacher
When a nun in full habit greets you at the entry to the theatre, you know you're in for an interactive performance experience. Indeed you are at the Aux Dog Theatre's production of the 1985 musical by Dan Goggin, Nunsense. Once in your seat, you'll be showered with a mist of holy water as the six nuns spread out across the audience. And that's before the action begins. Once they collect back on the stage, the fun really starts.

The gist of Nunsense is that The Little Sisters of Hoboken are putting on a fundraiser. They are using the stage that is designed to be the set of the high-schoolers' production of Grease. The five nuns led by Mother Superior Mary Regina (Angela Littleton) tell their tragic-but-funny stories song-by-song while a live ensemble of five musicians—headed by keyboardist Nate Flake—keep the music fresh and bright. Did I tell you what a positive difference live music makes to a musical?

While Nunsense is essentially skit comedy, the individual story-songs build into an overall narrative of a horrific accident in which a cook inadvertently poisoned 52 fellow nuns. Six of the survivors—the nuns before us—are raising money for burials. And yet the musical is light. Thankfully, you don't have to know Catholicism to get the jokes. Coming from New Jersey, the nuns all have Chris Christie's accent, and the actors do a wonderful job of making this consistent.

Oddly, the running gags in Nunsense began as a line of greeting cards that featured a nun offering clerical quips. Goggin took his popular cards and crafted them into song and dance pieces, then tied them all together in a colorful production. The musical had a good run in the mid-1980s, taking second place as the longest running Off-Broadway show, with more than 3,500 performances. The musical flowered as a community theatre staple, logging up to 8,000 productions worldwide. The appeal is clear. Nunsense bursts with energy and enthusiasm—even if it does tell a gloomy story.

The small stage at the Aux Dog makes the production intimate. Even so, the stage is too small to contain all of the energy, so the nuns spill out into the audience off and on throughout.

While director Kristine Holtvedt has created a nicely integrated ensemble presentation, individual personalities emerge quickly. Littleton, as the group's leader, brings a great voice and a knock-out performance of accidental inebriation. Sister Amnesia—who lost her memory—is the Dumbo of the ensemble, the sweet butt of jokes. Jessica Osborne brings a natural comedic flare to Sister Amnesia.

Lisa Fenstermacher brings a full voice and bright comic presence to Sister Hubert. Likewise with Wendy Traylor as Sister Robert Anne and Kir Kipness as Sister Mary Leo. They're all strong throughout. Tiffany Neeley as Sister Mary Myopia (great name) has much less to do but still fits well with the ensemble. The musical ends on a strong high with Sister Hubert singing "Holier Than Thou," and Fenstermacher nails it with powerful belting.

Lisette Graham Herrera does an admirable job with the choreography, and the lighting and sound design by Lucas Zuniga become part of the comedy. The set by Dean Eldon Squibb and VJ Liberatori works well as the place from which the action, singing, dance, and exuberance spills out. Solid work by all.

Nunsense, created by Dan Goggin and directed by Kristine Holtvedt, will run at the Aux Dog Theatre (3015 Monte Vista Blvd. NE) through August 2, 2015. Performances begin at 8:00 pm on Friday and Saturday evenings and at 2:00 pm on Sundays afternoons. Tickets are $20 for adults, $17 for those with discount plans, $16 for ATG members and those under 30, and $10 for children under 12. You can reach the theatre at auxdog.com or by calling 505.254.7716.


Photo: Russell Maynor

--Rob Spiegel



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