Monday, December 3, 2012

THE DIVINE SISTER • HotCity Theatre

Many of the plays written by Charles Busch are well known for their inclination toward high camp, in which he is frequently featured in drag playing the leading lady.  The Divine Sister was no exception when it debuted off-Broadway in 2010.  In HotCity Theatre's uproarious production, John Flack splendidly takes on the role of Mother Superior.  Under Marty Stanberry's keen direction and a superb supporting cast, this peek behind cloister walls will provide you with plenty of rollicking over-the-topness, including send-ups of everything from Doubt and Agnes of God to The Sound of Music and “The Da Vinci Code”.

Set in 1960's Pittsburgh, Mother Superior is looking to raise some funds so she can modernize St. Veronica's convent school, with the help of Sister Acacius (Kirsten Wylder), the convent's brash wrestling coach.  Don't take this to mean that the Mother Superior is "modern".  She acknowledges the fact that she is living in a time of great social change, but she is determined to do everything she can to stop it!  She is also trying to manage (while Sister Acacius is trying to tolerate) one of the new postulates, Sister Agnes (Alyssa Ward), who's convinced she's "the chosen one", hearing divine voices, witnessing visions, and apparently possessing the power to heal.  St. Veronica's is also hosting the visiting Sister Walburga (Lavonne Byers) from Germany.

Alyssa Ward (Sister Agnes), Lavonne Byers (Sister Walburga)
and Kirsten Wylder (Sister Acacius).
Photo credit: Todd Studios
The additional cast of characters include Mrs. Levinson (Susie Wall), a wealthy neighboring atheist, and Jeremy (Chopper Leifheit), a former reporter looking to make a documentary about the miracle-working Sister Agnes.  He knew, and loved, Mother Superior back in the day when she was known as Susan Appleyard, a rival reporter at the time.  Just about everyone in the show has a past, and the revelations that come out one by one thicken the plot with the most entertaining turn of events.  I can't even tell you.  You just have to see it for yourself.

The whole cast is gifted with strong comic chops, and Flack leads the way, shining as Mother Superior.  As good as Byers is as the stern Sister Walburga, she's even better as the convent's cleaning woman, Mrs. MacDuffie.  Is there any accent she can't do?  Wylder doesn't hold back as the hilariously boisterous Sister Acacius, nor does Alyssa Ward as the  delightfully odd Sister Agnes.  Wonderful performances also by Chopper Leifheit as Jeremy and the creepy Brother Venerius, and Susie Wall as Mrs. Levinson and little Timmy, a young boy who is athletically inept.  James Holborow's set is simple but effective and Maureen Berry's lighting design complements the production, along with Jane Sullivan's costumes.  Patrick Burks adds much to the proceedings with his clever sound design, especially when the melodramatic underscores kick in.

Lavonne Byers (Sister Walburga), Chopper Leifheit (Jeremy),
John Flack (Mother Superior), Kirsten Wylder (Sister Acacius)
and Alyssa Ward (Sister Agnes).
Photo credit: Todd Studios
The Divine Sister is filled to the brim with irreverent piety and parody, that by the way, is best suited for adult audiences.  You'll have a blast.  Check it out.  It's playing until the 15th.


THE DIVINE SISTER

Written by Charles Busch
Directed by Marty Stanberry
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through December 15 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

Cast:
John Flack* (Mother Superior), Alyssa Ward (Sister Agnes), Kirsten Wylder (Sister Acacius), Lavonne Byers (Sister Walburga/Mrs. MacDuffie), Susie Wall* (Mrs. Levinson/Timmy) and Chopper Leifheit* (Jeremy/Brother Venerius).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Lighting design by Maureen Berry; sound design by Patrick Burks; scenic design by James Holborow; costume design by Jane Sullivan.

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