The Divine Sister

By Charles Busch
Directed by Carl Andress
Featuring Charles Busch, Julie Halson
Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street
production web site:
September 22, 2010 — ongoing

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
December 23, 2010

Jonathan Walker, Alison Fraser, Charles Busch, Amy Rutberg, Jennifer Van Dyck, Julie Halston. (photo: Sara Krulwich, The New York Times)

House music plunks us in mid-1960s Top 40 — “These Boots Are Made For Walking”, “Last Train to Clarksville”, “Yellow Submarine” among the gems I enjoy through a candy-colored haze of memory and nostalgia.  The set places us in St. Veronica’s convent (grill work over the jerry-rigged gates clue us in). Stained glass details upstage feature secular images such a steak on the grill (unexplained but entertaining nonetheless).  For this gal who sported a front pew center vantagepoint, the middle-school play quality of the stage details generate smiles of anticipation rather than derision — the bricks are dried out sponges of many colors, the tops of the cement gate details are clearly styrofoam orbs painted in delightful ways. These first moments of this The Divine Sister experience encompass the brilliance and simplicity of Charles Busch and his troupe: broad humor; measured tone; consistent, sincere, yet not cloying intent.  Not an ounce of snark to be found anywhere in this theatre.  And a delightful intermissionless mystery story it is.

Nuns and noir and references in vocal quality and plot points to myriad movie and television sources from the early to middle 20th century. You will be reminded of television detectives and stage (and screen) newspaper reporters and nuns that sing and fly.  It works, this form of story telling.  And it works because of the charm and poise and charisma of the creator and central character — the man actor as woman cub reporter who becomes a Mother Superior, Charles Busch.

Every member of the troupe (each listed in the picture that accompanies this review) is worthy of mention and worth of attention.  Catch this before it goes away.

© Martha Wade Steketee (December 25, 2010)

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