On Theater: 'Mrs. Honey B.' buzzes at Playhouse

Maripat Donovan has finally kicked the habit after nearly 20 years.

The veteran comic actress, who created the "Sister's Catechism" series and appeared as the know-it-all nun, has a new project and a new calling. She's giving both a test run at the Laguna Playhouse through June 24.

This time around, Donovan is helping people fix their relationships in her new show, the world premiere of "Ask Mrs. Honey B., Certified Life Coach," which she co-wrote with director Marc Silva. It's a lively interactive piece, still a bit rocky in spots, but a guaranteed laugh inducer.

Mrs. Honey B. is a honey of a character. After a long career teaching health and home economics, she's chosen a new life path – helping others sort out their lives. And if you sit too far front, she's liable to sort out yours.

She's not flying solo in this production. Actors Scott Bielecky and Denise Fennell – who starred for four years in the improvisational piece "Tony 'n Tina's Wedding" – join her as a long-married couple who still aren't a perfect fit. Close your eyes and you'll imagine you're at the Jersey Shore.

It's Fennell who really brings down the house with her back-East accent, her over-the-top hairdo and her pointed barbs at her husband's behavior and his taste in clothes. When she's on stage the show crackles with off-the-wall comedy.

Donovan's character (the B. stands for Buczkowski) is just slightly removed from her well-established "Sister." She still has an answer for anything and operates with the certainty that her point always should be taken and everyone is entitled to her opinion.

As a "certified life coach," Donovan interacts with audience members before bringing Frank and Angie Travertino (Bielecky and Fennell) on stage for a special "session." She bonds with "boomerang parents" in the audience whose grown offspring have flown back to the nest. "Never give them their old room," she cautions.

At intermission, playgoers fill out question cards, some of which Donovan answers in the second act, with Fennell's snappy assistance. These can be on any of a dozen subjects, depending on the creativity of the audience member.

As the subject of Fennell's sarcastic humor, Bielecky projects the typical male attitude that women often scorn. A highlight of the show is when he reappears dressed as his wife would have him – after dressing her in as little covering as legally possible.

This is a savvy trio, well versed in the demands of immediacy presented by improv theater, and the rough spots are certain to be smoothed over in subsequent performances.

For audiences who have become familiar with Marypat Donovan solely as a dominant nun, the sight of her in "civvies" with a husband and kids in the background, will be refreshing indeed. She's a real kick as "Mrs. Honey B., Certified Life Coach."

TOM TITUS covers local theater for the Coastline Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Ask Mrs. Honey B., Certified Life Coach"

Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and 2 and 7 p.m. on Sundays through June 24

Cost: $30 to $65

Call: (949) 497-2787 or online at http://www.lagunaplayhouse.com

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