Somewhere, someone is probably working on a scholarly dissertation on what I've come to think of as "the Wacky Nun Phenomenon."
From Sally Field's perky airborne television exploits to Whoopi Goldberg's "Sister Act" flicks to the made-in-Chicago "Late Nite Catechism" franchise, fun with nuns is a surefire formula for boffo box office. No one has exploited that formula with more relish (or shamelessness, depending on one's point of view) than Dan Goggin, the creator of "Nunsense" and its many musical spinoffs.
Marriott last did this show in 1997, with Alene Robertson as Sister Mary Regina, the Mother Superior of the beleaguered Little Sisters of Aptakisic (originally the Little Sisters of Hoboken, but a shout-out to the northwest suburbs plays better in Lincolnshire than Jersey humor). She's back in this current incarnation, directed and choreographed by Rachel Rockwell, and that's a flat-out blessing.
Robertson's brass and sass stays just this side of crass (sorry, Goggin's affection for obvious rhyme schemes is infectious). She receives some fine support from her quartet of lesser nuns, especially Abby Mueller's addlebrained Sister Mary Amnesia. The latter particularly shone opening night during a Q&A with a front-row audience member who had just been handed a St. Christopher card bearing the legend: "I'm a Catholic. In case of emergency, please call a priest." Upon finding out that the giftee was Mormon, Mueller's Amnesia grew wide-eyed with confusion. "Oh. Who do you call?"
There is a dark sensibility at the root of what is otherwise a featherlight show: The sisters have lost 52 of their peers in an unfortunate vichyssoise incident, and have only raised funds to bury 48—the other four "blue nuns" are in the convent freezer awaiting final disposition. (A comment on the declining numbers of women taking holy orders, perhaps?) So the good sisters are putting on a song-and-dance benefit revue. From there, the usual showbiz cliches spill forth, including the understudy, Sister Robert Anne (Debbie Laumand-Blanc) who is spoiling for her own shot in the spotlight.
Goggin's nuns started out as a series of greeting cards with quips, and that one-dimensional, anything-for-a-laugh genesis doesn't do this show any favors. Some of the references are past their sell-by date—do we still need riffs on the "I've fallen and I can't get up" commercial?
As a bit of inside-baseball humor, costumes from "Les Miserables," Marriott's last production, pop up at incongruous moments, and there's an "Avenue Q" moment with a dyspeptic nun puppet.
Certainly people who like this sort of thing will find plenty to enjoy in Rockwell's production, and plenty to admire in Robertson's leather-lunged, vinegary (but also surprisingly vulnerable) performance.
"Nunsense" When: Through July 13Where: Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, LincolnshireRunning time: 2 hours, 10 minutesTickets: $45-$55 at 847-634-0200 or marriotttheatre.comCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times