The Falcon | Volume 83, Issue 52
Published 5/22/13 | Log In
Latest show serves up religiously inspired jokes
By KELSEY CHASE, Staff Reporter
Published: November 14, 2012
Combine vichyssoise soup, 52 dead nuns and a VCR, and what do you get? One hell of a problem, that’s what.
Enter five uncensored yet pious nuns from the Little Sisters of Hoboken, and let the nonsense – excuse me, Nunsense – begin.
“It’s funny in a really refreshing way,” said Hannah Schuerman, the sophomore theatre major who stars as Hoboken’s Mother Superior. “We’re here to entertain you.”
And entertain us they do. From the minute these habit-clad nuns step onto the stage at Seattle Pacific University’s E.E. Bach Theatre in McKinley Hall, they make our sides ache with religiously inspired humor – “Mary Magdalene tarts? I bet they’re easy” – and self-mocking jests.
They’re here, they tell us, because an unfortunate concoction of the cook’s – Sister Julia, Child of God – has offed 52 of their sisters. Putting on a talent show is their last-ditch effort to raise the money needed to bury their dearly departed before the Board of Health writes them up.
Boldly, they chronicle the history of their order, which includes a stint at a leper colony, jibes against Protestants and a leg-baring imitation of the missioner’s pose.
Hilarity builds with the impassioned yet deplorable ballet performance of Sister Mary Leo, the unabashed social climbing of Sister Mary Hubert, Mistress of Novices, and the brutally honest and completely naďve performance of Sister Mary Amnesia – forgetful since being pegged in the head with a crucifix – and her puppet, Sister Marion Annette.
“It really is the right mix of girls to pull [this] off,” Theatre Department Chair Don Yanik says. He’s wanted to do Nunsense since he first saw the show in the ‘80s, but only now have the perfect combination of vocal talent and campus sentiment made it possible.
“SPU is more culturally open now,” he said. “We’re more comfortable with seeing the world through other people’s eyes.” And while Nunsense may push the envelope on kosher humor, Yanik sought the opinions of various Catholic clergy and SPU faculty, who approved the idea with overwhelming support. The show will set the tone for a year of theatre department productions, highlighting a variety of religious experiences including Lutheranism and Judaism.
Indeed, the Little Sisters of Hoboken invite us to laugh with them, not at them, and by poking fun at themselves they lighten the stereotype of the austere nun. Street-wise Sister Mary Robert Anne is anything but typical, versed in everything from drugs to immaculate conception. “People don’t know how to react at first,” Schuerman said. “It’s my favorite thing to get them on board and excited.”
But anyone who does such a spot-on imitation of the Pope has little to worry about in terms of audience satisfaction, and the community response to Nunsense has been exceptional. “I didn’t expect such a high caliber of comedy,” audience member Courtney May said. “It was farcical, but I thought it was hilarious.”
This is exactly the reaction guest director and choreographer Ruben Van Kempen was looking for. An expert in the musical theatre world and Director of Theatre at Roosevelt High School in Seattle, he was recently inducted into the National Educational Theatre Association Hall of Fame and has worked with the SPU Theatre Department in years past.
He keeps coming back, he said, because SPU culture feels like family.
He considers it “a joy to work here” among a community committed to excellence and consistency.
And it’s nothing short of remarkable what he’s put together in a mere five weeks. Nuns in authentic habits and real rosary beads are tap-dancing across his stage, dropping the occasional “h-e-double-hockey-stick” and basking in the glow of the spotlight.
“It’s a show SPU needed,” House Manager Lauren Kelm said. And indeed, Nunsense gives us the chance to laugh at ourselves, to see where our religious practices – no matter what they may be – are open to interpretation and good-hearted mockery from ourselves and others. If nothing else, it’s good for a deep, soul-cleansing laugh.
But what about those dead nuns? Lucky for you, Nunsense runs all this week with performances Nov. 15, 16, and 17 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 17 at 2 p.m. Confession is optional, but laughter is required.
SPU’s production of Nunsense stars sophomore Hannah Schuerman as Sister Mary Regina, senior Stephanie Jo Woods as Sister Mary Hubert, junior Amy Helmuth as Sister Mary Robert Anne, senior Olivia Davis as Sister Mary Amnesia and junior Miranda Boulden as Sister Mary Leo. Student tickets are $10; general admission tickets are $12.