Playwright Charles Busch, let’s just say it up front, is not for all tastes. Here’s the guy responsible for classics like “Die, Mommie, Die,” “Vampire Lesbians Of Sodom” and “Psycho Beach Party,” who writes drag roles because he wants to play them (and clearly has a great time doing it).
Now he’s taken on nuns as a topic. Diversionary Theatre presents the West Coast premiere of Busch’s “The Divine Sister,” a send-up of all the films and songs about nuns you’ve ever heard of (and probably a few you haven’t).
At St. Veronica’s convent school in Pittsburgh, Mother Superior (Daren Scott) has plans to tear down the aging building and construct a new one. To this end, she and Sister Acacius (Yolanda Franklin) – a hefty nun who serves as both mistress of novices and wrestling coach – visit Jewish philanthropist Mrs. Levinson (Maggie Carney) in hopes of sizable donation for the cause, even suggesting that the spacious Levinson home might serve. But “that Hebe” (as charwoman Mrs. Macduffie, played by Jacque Wilke, will call her) says her she’s already committed her philanthropic money for the year and tosses the nuns out.
Meanwhile, Sister Maria Walburga (Wilke), a visiting nun from Germany, and the shadowy albino monk Brother Venerius (Dangerfield G. Moore) have their own reasons to try to make sure the building is not destroyed.
Another tiny thorn in Mother Superior’s side is postulant Agnes (Lauren King), one of those annoying faithful who has “visions,” like seeing the face of St. Clare in a pair of dirty underwear (don’t ask).
Yet another plot element arrives with film producer Jeremy (Moore), who has heard of Agnes and her visions and thinks he could make some money with a film about her. It turns out he and the Mother Superior were once crime reporters for rival papers.
If you haven’t identified several films by the above description, then perhaps this show is not for you. Though it is neither satire nor mean-spirited, the script is silly almost to the point of stupidity. It even stoops to an extended fart joke.
Still, Busch does provoke giggles when he pokes good-natured fun at religion and its lack. “My dear, we are living in a time of great social change,” she tells Agnes. “We must do everything in our power to stop it.”
Director Glenn Paris lets his cast play the silliness for all it’s worth, and the fact that three of them are double cast makes for even more fun.
Scott is funny as Mother Superior but even better as former journalist Susan in the flashback “His Girl Friday” scene, where he gets to show off his legs and, um, curves.
Carney is a hoot as Mrs. Levinson, the atheist who opines that agnostics are “wishy washy fools afraid to take an intelligent stand. Give me the religious zealots. At least you can depend on their stupidity.” She’s also fun as 12-year-old Timothy, trying desperately to learn to play baseball so he can attract the right kind of attention from the local bully.
Moore’s Jeremy is everything you never wanted in a film producer – smooth-talking and greedy, he can charm the ... well, the habit off a nun. And he looks properly sinister as Brother Venerius, though he has little to do in that role.
Wilke is a scream as Sister Walburga (though the German accent is difficult to cut through) and as charwoman Mrs. Macduffie.
Franklin will probably remind every Catholic school graduate of at least one nun encountered in the course of education. She seems caring, but those Converse sneakers and that gym teacher whistle warn of trouble for misbehavior.
King’s Agnes is exactly what you’d expect a postulant to be – eager, committed and vulnerable. She seems to be the only one without an ulterior motive.
“The Divine Sister” (the title refers to the bones of “Joyce,” supposed sister of Jesus, who is allegedly buried under the convent and who really accomplished the miracles attributed to her more famous brother) is goofy, tasteless, funny and annoying by turns. Kudos to the tech team and especially to sound designer Blair Robert Nelson for his song tracks from all those films.
“The Divine Sister” plays through June 30 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd.
Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.
Tickets: (619) 220-0097 or HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.