Meet the Rogue

Live theater. Unsolicited commentary.
From Detroit to Lansing.

Carolyn Hayes is the Rogue Critic, est. late 2009.

In 2011, the Rogue attended 155 plays, readings, and festivals (about 3 per week) and penned 115 reviews (about 2.2 per week).

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Theaters and Companies

The Abreact (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2011 SIR

The AKT Theatre Project (Wyandotte)
website | reviews

Blackbird Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Detroit Repertory Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

The Encore Musical Theatre Co. (Dexter)
website | reviews

Go Comedy! (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Hilberry Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Jewish Ensemble Theatre (West Bloomfield)
website | reviews

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co. (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Matrix Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester)
website | reviews

Performance Network Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews

Planet Ant Theatre (Hamtramck)
website | reviews

Plowshares Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

Purple Rose Theatre Co. (Chelsea)
website | reviews

The Ringwald Theatre (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Tipping Point Theatre (Northville)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Threefold Productions (Ypsilanti)
website | reviews

Two Muses Theatre (West Bloomfield Township)
website | reviews

Williamston Theatre (Williamston)
website | reviews







« The Cemetery Club | Main | M. Butterfly »

The Divine Sister

Biting wit Charles Busch sinks his satirical fangs into The Divine Sister, citing the many nuns that have dotted pop culture over the last half-century or so. Yet in this telling, whether the collective brides of Christ have a cultural imprint strong enough to make this skewering feel like long-deserved comeuppance remains unconfirmed. Director Jamie Richards approaches this gotta-nuke-something Ringwald Theatre comedy with reigning silliness, skipping daintily over patchy references to mine the moments and characters for their brash, irreverent comedic potential.

The play’s single act borrows from just about every nun source you could name, plus several you probably couldn’t, or maybe heard about once, or barely remember. Alongside ponderous dramatic Agnes of God models — exploring the line between disturbed, possessed, and miraculous — are peppy Sound of Music types with a song always on their lips, brought to intentionally cloying fruition by music director Jeremy Ryan Mossman. Busch lines up his types and scatters story arcs among them: the driving plot is that old chestnut, The Convent Needs Money, Let’s Get Some Money, How Will We Ever Get The Money?; however, numerous other pots are stirred and hints dropped, from the return of one lifetime-ago romance to a literally underground scheme rife with nefarious DaVinci Code secrecy. Bogged down by development after murky, half-baked development, the show falters by the playwright’s hand; Busch’s degeneracy is universally stronger than his cleverness, so the energy expended on loose ends hauled together into a crash-landing resolution feels like it’s elbowing out the superior raunchy-profane material.

Keeping this many stories, locales, and cutaways afloat is no small feat, and the production layers moods over the top of a flatly artificial base design. Costumes by Tracy Murrell provide a wealth of surprises and quick changes that not only serve the double casting and whirlwind flashbacks, but turn them into strengths. Katie Orwig uses stereotypical details to unite her necessarily backdrop-y set, whose abstractions are morphed into different places and times by Joe Plambeck’s adaptable lighting scheme. Sound design by Richards folds in folk, musical theater, and devotional influences, but is best in overblown cinematic cues that slap exclamation points onto the melee. The consciously low-budget feeling helps sweep the whole enterprise along and serves as a fondly garbled complement to this discordantly bungled story.

The half-dozen cast members call on vastly different strengths to find the comedy in the material. As Mother Superior, Joe Bailey uses sweet mugging in great moments of misdirection, landing laughs every time he pays lip service to the Catholic Church’s desire to oppress and squelch. Whereas Lisa Jesswein plunges into her wise guy/tomboy misfit nun with studious commitment, Meredith Deighton’s wide-eyed young acolyte remains placidly possessed, finally shedding her passivity when the character comes out of her shell. In dual roles, Julia Garlotte shows delicate refinement in character work — countering poise that screams pure upper crust with the innocence of a shy, candid young student — but declines to outlandishly grasp for laughs, leaving several just out of reach. In contrast, Melissa Beckwith revels in caricature in her German-accented sister, who bristles with inscrutable severity. Finally, Richards excels as a dashing leading-man type, his scene locked in splendid film noir banter with Bailey ranking high among the highlights of the show.

With a script this diffuse and a target this random, The Divine Sister could never reach heaven, but Richards and company have evident fun crafting their impious, freewheeling interpretation into a more earthly delight. The production's giddy rancor can't quite overcome the play's shortcomings, chief among them an overflowing story that falls short of its promise of sending up film/TV/stage nuns in any tangible way. Yet coupled with the Ringwald’s reputation for ribaldry and the show’s chaotic comic energy, the same comparatively gentle, nonspecific mockery should hold appeal for viewers who appreciate a good ribbing for its own sake.

The Divine Sister is no longer playing.
For the latest from the Ringwald Theatre, click here.