On Theater: Double the 'Nunsense' at Playhouse

By Tom Titus for Daily Pilot

Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" was such a big hit that he rewrote it for a mostly female cast. Reginald Rose's "Twelve Angry Men" eventually went coed as "Twelve Angry Jurors."

Neither of these plays, to my knowledge, ever was presented in both versions during the same engagement. Which makes the Costa Mesa Playhouse's current attraction something of a rarity.

"Nunsense" Dan Goggin's spirited 1985 sendup of a band of Catholic sisters and their fundraising efforts in the form of a variety show gained a companion piece, "Nunsense A-Men" with an all-male cast, somewhere along the way. The Costa Mesa theater is offering both versions at alternate performances.

The project has doubled the workload for its director, Jason Holland, just as it doubles the fun for its audiences. Since only the performers' faces are visible as they're surrounded by the nuns' habits, the basic difference between the two versions is the timber of the voices.

The male quintet does seem a tad swifter on the uptake, but this aspect could differ at individual performances. Each cast has one outstanding voice in the women's version it's Erin Miller's, in the men's it's Michael Paul's.

Goggin's storyline revolves around Sister Julia (child of God's) tainted vichyssoise that leaves 52 of the convent's sisters dead of food poisoning. The convent has the funds to bury 48 of them, but the other four have been stored in the church freeze hence the fervent fundraising activity.

In the women's version, Janet McGregor is delightful as the somewhat dippy mother superior and Amy Hitchcock shines as her envious deputy, with Katie Nichol, the aforementioned Miller and Dallas Krauss completing the cast.

In "Nunsense A-Men," Marc Montminy takes the ruler as the clicker-brandishing big sister, with Paul, Jon Sparks, Eric Hindley and Tyler Poe as "her" acolytes and accomplices.

Both casts sprint through the same series of songs and sight gags, some of which probably are intentionally corny, others quite effective. One of the best skits involves the mother superior sniffing a can of Rush inhalant and getting high as a kite as a result.

In another, the same character breaks into a torchy song and dance number, illustrating that she's the last of the red hot mama superiors. Both McGregor and Montminy excel during these segments.

Both Hitchcock and Paul tear the cover off their big numbers as the understudy chafing for that big break while fending off the vices of pride, greed and envy. Not all of the skits reap untrammeled hilarity, however.

Musical director Stephen Hulsey sets a spirited pace with bandmates Nathan Atwater (bass) and Curtis Baxter (drums). The western-themed setting has nothing to do with the show, but it was there (at Mt. Saint Helen's School) at the time.

Visiting both versions might not be a bad idea, the better to catch some of the nunnified dialogue you might have missed. In any case, you can't go too far wrong on either at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.

©2011 Costa Mesa Playhouse