Saturday, August 14, 1999

'Nunsense' often dated, flat and lacking warmth

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Downtown Theatre Classics is filling these hot summer nights with a well-sung but essentially soulless production of Nunsense at the Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Only two performances out of five achieve a level of professionalism and while there's nothing wrong with competent community theater, why would anybody pay these prices for it?

        Nunsense, which is now older than some Cincinnati suburbs, is an affectionate spoof of Catholic school daze. You know what? Some things just don't age gracefully. References to Mount St. Helens and Fantasy Island and Gunsmoke are SO OLD. New references to king-of-the-world James Cameron and Monica Lew-nun-sky need to be sharper.

        So here's my audience litmus test. If you giggle at the idea of a cookbook of Catholic cuisine that includes Mary Magdalene tarts, Leg of Lamb of God and Host Toasties, go ahead and buy a ticket. Otherwise, think fondly of an innocent time when nuns making mildly risque comments, using the gentlest of naughty words and getting stoned invited shocked laughter. But try a different entertainment option.

        This Nunsense is merely capable, at best. The revue's conceit is that a quintet of nuns is staging a benefit to bury some of their sisters (accidentally done in by convent chef Sister Julia, Child of God).

        There's Mother Superior (Patricia Linhart in the production's best performance); forgetful Sister Mary Amnesia (the always competent Shelley Bamberger Bailey); ambitious Sister Mary Hubert (Patti James) and jolly Sister Mary Robert (Sherry McCamley), both of whom sing better than they act; and ballet dancing novice Sister Mary Leo (Cassandra Capocci, who dances better than she sings or acts).

        There's not much warmth here, just big musical performances. Director Terry LaBolt does double duty as music director. (That's he hiding in a habit and playing piano off to the side.) He should have paid as much attention to character and connection as he does to getting them to deliver the many, mostly inconsequential musical numbers. The only thing that sells material this soft is heart.

        Nunsense, Downtown Theatre Classics, Aronoff Center Jarson-Kaplan Theater, through Aug. 29. 241-7469.


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