CVIndependent

Thu07022020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

If you’re one of those poor souls carrying resentment about mistreatment by nuns in Catholic school—or if you just need a few good belly laughs—get to the Desert Rose Playhouse, pronto.

The Divine Sister, produced by Paul Taylor, may just be your salvation.

The play was originally conceived by actor, writer and longtime female impersonator Charles Busch as a star vehicle for himself. Known for his off-Broadway play Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and the Broadway hit The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, Busch once said, “Drag is being more, more than you can be.”

The Divine Sister is a demented tribute to films featuring nuns, from The Sound of Music to Agnes of God. The story unfolds at St. Veronica’s Convent and grade school in Pittsburgh. Mother Superior (Jim Strait) has many issues to deal with, including the fact that the school building is falling down. She’s dealing with a young postulate named Agnes (of course), who believes she has magical healing powers and that the Virgin Mary speaks directly to her; Timothy, a young boy in desperate need of baseball coaching who doesn’t yet realize he’s gay; and a newly arrived German nun who may not be all that she seems.

Throw in devout atheist Mrs. Levinson, who could fund a new school if she were so inclined, and a man from Mother Superior’s crime-reporting past who is still pining for her, and you can understand the need for a few extra prayers.

Strait, who also serves as Desert Rose’s artistic director, is tremendous here. Though The Divine Sister is an ensemble piece, Strait is the captain of the ship, and he skillfully leads his cast through this irreverent romp. He’s strong actor and a charismatic presence who seems very comfortable in drag—but his physical size and voice remind us that there’s some testosterone in the mix as well. Sporting a long, curly wig and heels, Strait’s first appearance as girl reporter Susan Appleyard gets a huge laugh. Strait seems to be having as much fun as the audience is, which really enhances the theater-going experience.

Allison Feist is perfectly cast as innocent Agnes, who truly believes she’s been specially chosen by God. She exudes both the religious fervor of Meg Tilly in Agnes of God and the girlish mischievousness of Julie Andrews in The Sounds of Music. The physical gyrations she goes through while “healing” others are laugh-out-loud funny. Keep an eye on Feist; she has a bright future ahead of her.

As Sister Acacius, Lorraine Williamson knocks the role out of the park. Big, bold and brassy, she shows off animated facial expressions and perfect comic timing that remind me of a combination of Jo Anne Worley and Lucille Ball. Sister Acacius has a lusty past, and her vow of celibacy sometimes seems to waiver. When handsome movie consultant Jeremy (the fabulous Timm McBride) begins describing his impressive manhood in great detail, Williamson’s efforts not to drool are precious.

Adina Lawson delivers an award-worthy performance as smug, privileged Mrs. Levinson. Early in the show, two nuns visit her in an effort to secure funds to build a new school. Mrs. Levinson explains her devout atheism while describing agnostics as “wishy-washy fools afraid to take an intelligent stand. Give me religious zealots. At least you can depend on their stupidity.” Later, while sharing memories of her late husband Morris (including sea creatures during a visit to Crete, and his fatal heart attack), Levinson peppers her stories with hilarious Vogue magazine-esque descriptions of what she was wearing. Her turn as 12-year-old Timothy is equally impressive. Lawson is a pro—she totally embodies each character and is clearly having a blast on stage.

The always-interesting Alden West is quite good as the mysterious German nun, Sister Maria Walburga. Like pretty much everyone else in the play, her character has secrets—including a randy side. Walburga’s not-so-subtle invitation to Sister Acacius to have a sexual threesome with another nun is a hoot. West manages to maintain distinctly different (and believable) accents as both Berlin native Sister Walburga and, later, as a Scottish housekeeper. Any actor will tell you that to accomplish such a thing within the same play is not an easy feat.

As both Jeremy (the well-endowed film consultant hunting for a good story) and sinister monk Brother Venerius, Timm McBride is excellent. Having each actor play two roles in a production doesn’t always work, but it does here—beautifully. There is not a single weak performance here.

Director J. Stegar Thompson gets the best out of his strong cast. He keeps the pace going, which keeps the laughs flowing. I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future. Thomas L. Valach’s set and Phil Murphy’s lighting provide just the right mood, as does Thompson’s sound. In a show with so much cross-dressing and actors playing dual roles, costumes (Kathryn Ferguson) and wigs (Toni Molano and Timm McBride) are crucial. All are spot on. Stage manager Steve Fisher deserves a nod as well.

This terrific show did suffer through a couple of glitches on opening night. There was a stumble right out of the gate with sound cues. After a delightful recorded welcome to the show from playwright Charles Busch, opening music began … then abruptly stopped. Then we heard a repeat of Busch’s welcome … which also abruptly stopped. Then there was the music again … which stopped. Finally, the music began in earnest, and the play got underway. The performances were so good that the audience soon forgot about the sound snafu, but it was an unfortunate way to start the night. Another big goof: Toward the end of the show, there was a premature entrance by an actor during a very dramatic moment in the script.

No matter what your religious affiliation, you will enjoy Desert Rose Playhouse’s production of The Divine Sister. It’s funny; it’s raucous; and it’s one hell of an entertaining evening.

The Divine Sister is performed at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, March 29, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 69620 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $28-$30. For tickets or more information, call, 760-202-3000, or visit www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Buyer and Cellar—From Coyote Stageworks

Emerson Collins (Sordid Lives) stars in the comedy Buyer and Cellar, which focuses on the price of fame, at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, from Friday, March 27, through Sunday, April 5. $45 to $60. At the Helene Galen Performing Arts Center, 31001 Rattler Road, Rancho Mirage. 760-318-0024; www.coyotestageworks.org.

The Divine Sister—From Desert Rose Playhouse

The Charles Busch-written show, an outrageous comic homage to nearly every Hollywood film involving nuns, takes place at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, March 6, through Sunday, March 29. $28 to $30. At 69620 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum—From Palm Canyon Theatre

The famous play about slave Pseudolus’ attempts to help his young master earn the love of a courtesan named Philia is performed at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, March 8. $32 to $36. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

La Gringa—From CV Rep

In this comedy by Carmen Rivera, Maria goes to visit her family in Puerto Rico—where she realizes that everyone in Puerto Rico considers her an American, a gringa. However, through the wise and colorful words and music of her uncle, Maria learns life lessons; at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, from Wednesday, March 4, through Sunday, March 22. $45; $40 previews on March 4 and 5; $55 March 6 opening night. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

A Handful of Nickels and Dimes

Yve Evans performs this comedy and music show that’s a tribute to vaudeville at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, March 22. No shows March 6-8. $26 with discounts. At the Indio Performing Arts Center, 45175 Fargo St., Indio. 760-775-5200; www.indioperformingartscenter.org.

Jack—From College of the Desert Dramatic Arts

This humorous twist on the fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk” takes place at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Feb. 27 and 28; and 3 p.m., Sunday, March 1. $15; $10 students. At the Pollock Theatre at College of the Desert, 43400 Monterey Ave., Palm Desert. 760-773-2565; codperformingarts.com.

Legally Blonde—From Musical Theatre University

Broadway stars join MTU students in this hit musical at 7:30 p.m., Thursday and Friday, March 12 and 13; 2 p.m., Sunday, March 15; 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, March 20 and 21; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, March 21 and 22. $15 to $35. At the Helene Galen Performing Arts Center, 31001 Rattler Road, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-6482; www.hgpac.org.

McCallum Theatre

Hershey Felder stars in George Gershwin Alone at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 28; and 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, March 1; $25 to $75. ABBA MANIA takes the stage at 8 p.m., Monday, March 2; $25 to $65. Broadway and Hollywood combine for a romantic and entertaining evening of song and dance with Joan Hess and Kirby Ward in Dancing and Romancing, featuring the Desert Symphony Orchestra, at 8 p.m., Thursday, March 12; $45 to $95. The musical comedy Nice Work If You Can Get It is performed at 8 p.m., Friday, March 13; 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday, March 14; and 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, March 15; $35 to $95. Laurence Luckinbill is Teddy Roosevelt in the one-man show Teddy Tonight! at Thursday, March 19; $15 to $65. The Ten Tenors return with a show of Broadway hits at 8 p.m., Friday, March 20; 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday, March 21; and 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, March 22; $25 to $75. Dame Edna’s Glorious Goodbye takes place at 8 p.m., Monday, March 30, through Saturday, April 4, with a 2 p.m. matinee on April 4; $35 to $95. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Nunsense: The Mega Musical—From Desert Theatreworks

To save their convent from financial ruin, the Little Sisters of Hoboken have to raise the money and properly bury their accidentally poisoned sisters. What will they do? Why throw a fundraiser, of course; they do at 7 p.m., Thursday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, from Thursday, March 5, through Sunday, March 15. $25 regular; $23 seniors; $15 students with ID. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

On the Air 2—From Dezart Performs

This annual evening of radio-show classics features an all-star cast including Gavin MacLeod, Joyce Bulifant, Millicent Martin and many others, at 7 p.m., Thursday, March 12. $35 to $75. At the Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs. 760-322-0179; dezartperforms.org.

The Osanbi Deal—From Script2Stage2Screen

This play is set near a toxic waste area in South Carolina and is a compelling story of treachery and guilt; 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, March 6 and 7. $10. At the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert, 72425 Via Vail, Rancho Mirage. 760-345-7938; www.script2stage2screen.com.

The Secret Garden—From Palm Canyon Theatre

The orphaned Mary Lennox is sent to England to live with the Cravens. While there, she helps bring life to a secret garden; the show is performed at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, March 20, through Sunday, March 29. $28. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Two By Tony—From Desert Ensemble Theatre Company

Tony Padilla’s one-acts Family Meeting and The Comeback are performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, from Friday, March 13, through Sunday, March 22. $22 with discounts. At the Pearl McManus Theater in the Palm Springs Womans Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. 760-565-2476; www.detctheatre.org.

Urinetown: The Musical—From Theatre 29

This comedic tale of greed, corruption, love and revolution in a Gotham-like city at a time when water is extremely scarce is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, through Saturday, March 28; there are also matinee shows at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, March 8 and 22. $12 regular; $10 seniors and military; $8 children and students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

Published in Theater and Dance