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New York City - Theatre

 

 

Charles Busch’s
The Divine Sister
SoHo Playhouse


Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Directed by Carl Andress

Featuring: Charles Busch, Alison Fraser, Amy Rutberg, Jennifer Van Dyck, Jonathan Walker and Julie Halston.

Charles Busch’s mad love for fifties and sixties movies is obvious in all of his work and with The Divine Sister, he has fashioned one of the funniest, most-entertaining and yet most thought-provoking plays in quite a while and certainly one of his best ever. Note: I am a huge fan of Vampire Lesbians of Sodom as well as The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife—two works that fall on the opposite sides of the mainstream spectrum.

What makes this play so good? Well besides Busch satirizing almost every film made that has a nun in it (specifically The Sound of Music, The Singing Nun, The Trouble with Angels, The Bells of St. Marys’, The Song of Bernadette, Doubt and Agnes of God) as well as so many other films (His Girl Friday, Auntie Mame, Suddenly, Last Summer, A Cry in the Dark, The Da Vinci Code, to name a few), he has also written a terrific script that is an homage to the melodramatic films of the 50s and early 60s where over-the-top acting ruled the day, Catholic morality governed what you could and couldn’t show onscreen and a happy ending was vital. He’s peppered his work with Rosalind Russell-esque dialogue (an actress Busch both resembles and loves to emulate) and has a gifted director (Carl Andress) who knows exactly how far to go to make his audience laugh at the ridiculous while making us aware of what we are laughing at.

The lunatic plot revolves around St. Veronica’s Mother Superior (drag queen Busch having a hell of a good time) and a potpourri of Sisters hiding secrets—some nuttier than anything we’ve ever see in the films mentioned above. I won’t go into any more plot detail since part of the infinite joy of experiencing The Divine Sister is how the zany plot unfolds and the ways the actors react to certain revelations.

I cannot commend the ensemble enough. Led by the amazing Busch, his sometime sidekick Julie Halston is absolutely hilarious as Sister Acacius, a nun who is called a certain name late in the play that leads to more hilarity than any sitcom since Soap.

Alison Fraser, who is NYC’s best-kept secret, is simply spectacular as the German Sister Walburga. The woman steals every scene she is in. Her line deliveries are perfection and, pardon the paradox, but she is one sexy sister!

Amy Rutberg, Jennifer Van Dyck and Jonathan Walker round out the kick-ass troupe doing wonderful work as well.

“We are living in a great time of social change and it’s our duty to stop it,” proclaims Mother Superior in a sinister tone.

The Divine Sister masterfully blends high comedy with it’s own dramatic themes which include the dangers of repression and not learning from ones mistakes.

The genius in this work is that at the end of the high jinx-filled evening you find yourself quoting your favorite lines but you also find yourself pondering real and relevant issues that have been around forever-- including the dangers of extreme religious zealotry.

At the SoHo Playhouse, 15 VanDam Street, South Village; 212-691-1555; ovationtix.com. 1 hour 45 minutes.

SoHo Playhouse | 15 VanDam Street


Edward Albee’s
Me, Myself & I
Tuesday 8:00pm
Wednesday 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 2:30pm & 8:00pm
Sunday 2:30pm & 7:30pm
Closes on October 31, 2010
Playwrights Horizons


Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Playing at Playwrights Horizons
Directed by Emily Mann

Edward Albee is arguably America’s greatest living playwright. All one needs to do is mention Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, or more recently, The Goat or Who is Sylvia?, to know he has created decades filled with masterpieces. Unfortunately, Me, Myself & I does not belong in that category. This script plays like the type of work an ambitious young playwright might experiment with, not the labors of a seasoned genius.

Albee’s absurdist, existential musings feel trite and surface. I rarely felt engaged. The repetition annoyed me and the constant clever wordplay kept taking me out of the piece.

The play is certainly worth seeing since lesser Albee is still better than most plays written today. It also boasts an opportunity to see the glorious Elizabeth Ashley onstage.

Ms. Ashley plays a flighty, irrational mother who is unable to tell her identical twin sons apart. She named them both Otto (well, actually one is named OTTO and the other otto). On this particularly ridiculous day OTTO (Zachary Booth), the self-labeled “evil” twin, arrives at his mother’s bedside to announce he is becoming Chinese and he declares that his brother, otto (Preston Sadleir) no longer exists. The rest of the play feels like a game that Albee has invented but fails to explain the rules and goals to his audience.

Much impressive banter follows and the fourth wall is broken with abandon. The problem is I felt detached and eventually could care less about the characters.

Some who saw the version, also directed by Emily Mann, at the McCarter Theatre in 2008, say it was much better; others are saying it’s nearly the same. I did not see it. I do know that Mann’s direction felt lazy and lacked passion.

Ashley’s comic timing is a wonder and she has a good time with her role seemingly channeling Carol Channing, Bette Davis and Elizabeth Taylor. Still, her approach to the Mother felt off. Brian Murray is also hilarious but the character felt completely out of sorts with the piece. And Booth and Sadleir weren’t really able to play parts as much as spew abstract dialogue since their parts were befuddlingly one-dimensional. Natalia Payne has it even worse as otto’s girlfriend. And Stephen Payne has the silliest of roles as the play’s deux ex machina.

Most people who know of Albee’s work know of his own damaging experience with being adopted and raised by right-wingers. Cruel mothers and non-existent children are nothing new in his plays. Here he fails to delve deeper than the surface. Me, Myself & I is a play that has admirable elements and is occasionally entertaining, but is mostly frustrating, alienating and exhausting.

Ticket Price: $75.00 Tickets by Phone: 212-279-4200 http://www.playwrightshorizons.org


Playwrights Horizons | 416 West 42nd Street


 


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