New York City Theater
"The Divine Sister"
Soho Playhouse, Manhattan
Well, Charles Busch is back and in fighting form. And how lucky we are to have him back! Star and playwright all in one, he offers up his typically zany Busch (spelled with a “c”) world, one that only he could create.
This time around the setting is a convent, and Busch himself plays the Mother Superior in full regalia. Everything and everybody in sight is totally outrageous—from the Pop-Op set lit in screeching colors to the exaggerated nuns’ attire.
While the nuns struggle to keep St. Veronica’s afloat, each character harbors her own dark secrets. Mother Superior has had a child out of wedlock, Agnes, the novitiate, has visions and healing powers, and Sister Walburga is not the visiting German nun she seems to be. And it seems there’s a foreign cabal afoot.
Busch has a fertile imagination, but he is not above borrowing heavily from many sources. Watching “The Divine Sister” brings to mind “The DaVinci Code,” “Nunsense,” “The Importance of Being Ernest.” Dan Brown, Dan Goggin, Oscar Wilde are all sources of inspiration. And yet this tale is uniquely Busch—Busch of the early days before he moved to Broadway with his award-winning “The Allergist’s Wife.”
As to performance, the centerpiece is Busch in drag---not a Hollywood queen this time—but Busch all the same, with the twisted mouth, the significant pause, the enigmatic smile, the madly glittering eyes.
Busch is blessed with a fine supporting cast, with every one in sync. Alison Fraser, Julie Halston, Amy Rutberg, Jennifer Van Dyck, and Jonathan Walker all perform, as required, over the top.
Set (B.T.Whitehill), costumes (Fabio Toblini), lighting (Kirk Bookman) and sound (Jill BC DuBoff) are also united in the worthy cause---creating a St. Veronica that could only exist in Charles Busch’s head.
Do we need to go over the plot? It’s enough to say that, after a series of antics, all ends well. Mothers find daughters, lovers reunite, villains are unmasked—and St. Veronica survives.
In all, a delicious day at the theater.
Oct. 19, 2010