HEAVENLY FODDER

On the surface Nunsense II: The Second Coming may sound irreverent, anti-Catholic and irreligious. But like its predecessor Nunsense, it's none of those things. The jokes are funniest to those most familiar with Catholicism--one former Catholic schoolboy informed me that the Latin motto on the floor of Mount Saint Helen's School (the setting for the story) translates to "Always Wear Underwear."

The production at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, which features original Star Trek star Nichelle Nichols in the role of Mother Superior, starts up slowly and lasts too long to completely sustain its vapid humor and sketchy plot. But it eventually warms to the task of diverting the audience. This is an inherently silly play, so don't expect to get anything more than mindless laughter out of the evening. But the cast is wonderful. Each of the women in this show has some unique talent that helps mitigate the inanity.

Nunsense II takes place six weeks after the fundraising benefit depicted in the original play, in which the Little Sisters of Hoboken had to raise money to bury 51 of their order members who died of botulism after Sister Julia, Child of God, made a bad pot of vichyssoise. The sisters are back with more songs and dance routines, along with a game of bingo and a big problem. Sister Mary Paul, who is recovering from amnesia (a crucifix fell on her head), has won the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes and now the Franciscan Sisters claim she belongs to them. The Franciscans even plan to take away the convent's new VCR and big-screen TV.

Sister Mary Paul was a rising star in the country-western sky when she received her "call," and may yet be again. She comes out in red cowboy boots and a sequined scapular with a puppet called Sister Mary Annette to perform for the folks. Brenda Faatz gives the troubled Sister Amnesia (as she's affectionately known inside the convent) a winsome doofiness and childlike sweetness that's funny and oddly touching.

Laura Lamun is small of stature, so her big voice is a splendid surprise. As Sister Mary Leo, Lamun plays the order's single novice--who, naturally, aspires to be the world's first nun ballerina. Lamun hasn't quite mastered the roller skates Sister Mary Leo adopts to thwart the disapproving Mother Superior, but her impish glee is a big part of her positive stage presence.

Beth Malone plays Sister Robert Anne, the tough kid from Brooklyn who bounces and belts her way through the show, all lively energy and sparkling style. In the song "I Am Here to Stay," though, Malone adopts a kindly seriousness about her religious calling that gives her performance an unexpected texture.

The show's caustic retorts and gutsy jokes are reserved for Pamela Clifton, who as Sister Hubert serves as the second-in-command to Mother Superior. In the funniest song of the evening, Clifton calls on the spirit of Elvis to help her solve the Franciscan problem. Her unerring comic timing and gift for irony polish some of the play's rougher edges.

If any of the performers here is less than stellar, it's Nichols, best known as Lieutenant Uhura of the Star Trek TV series and the Star Trek movies. At the opening-night performance, Nichols seemed to be unsure of her lines early on and her timing was all off--which tended to throw off the comic timing of most of the first act. However, in "The Classic Queens" and "There's Only One Way to End Your Prayers," she, too, cooked. Nichols has presence, a fine voice and plenty of style. She just needs to pick up the pace.

And on opening night, pace was a problem through the first act. Director Michael Gorman failed to move his performers around the stage quickly enough or gracefully enough to keep the action snappy--a must for a goofball comedy. The whole show could use a serious trim.

Still, Nunsense II has its moments--"The Catholic's Guide to Gift Giving" stands out, along with "What Would Elvis Do?" These singing nuns may be limited by giddiness, but they don't lack for spirit.

 
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