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Review: Comedy classic ‘Nunsense’ gets fresh twist with male cast

“Nunsense,” the perennial crowd-pleaser that’s kept Spokane Civic Theatre audiences in stitches over the past two decades, is back, this time in a production featuring five male actors as the wacky Little Sisters of Hoboken.

This version, called “Nunsense A-Men,” is a two-act musical retelling of playwright Dan Goggin’s story of desperate nuns trying to raise enough cash to bury four colleagues who died of food poisoning and are being kept on ice.

If you’ve never seen the story in the song-and-dance adaptation, this production, which opened Friday, is worth your time and attention. The Civic’s five-guy cast provides a level of talent – acting and vocal – well above average. The show is a reminder of the high level of musical and acting talent that Spokane’s community theater can draw on.

The plot is dumb, of course, but “Nunsense A-Men” is just a variety show featuring awful puns, numerous Broadway and film allusions, and enough music and dance to provide audiences with 105 minutes of fun.

Troy Nickerson, who’s been involved in several Civic “Nunsense” productions, keeps the show’s pace and punch lines simple. The one exception was the second-act lead-in, where three of the nuns tell jokes to the audience offstage. It’s a moment that has the actors break the wall between cast and audience, but it lasted a bit long and slows the momentum.

The show’s first-act highlight was a bouncy nimble tap dance duet featuring Mark Pleasant, as the irascible Sister Mary Hubert, and Jerrod Galles, as the balletic Sister Mary Leo. That time-step number, “Tackle That Temptation,” came off perfectly, thanks to the smooth footwork of Pleasant and Galles.

The evening’s other high point was the solo of Martin Sanks, as Sister Robert Anne, that opens Act 2. His song, “Growing Up Catholic,” is one of the evening’s quieter tunes. Sanks’ singing nicely blends strength and emotion and makes an otherwise ordinary set of lyrics into a showcase of his range and tone.

That song, out of all the fun and frolics during the show, stood out like a steadily glowing candle in a dark church hall.

The other two cast members, Rick Rivera as Rev. Mother Mary Regina, and Patrick McHenry-Kroetch as memory-addled Sister Mary Amnesia, were strong throughout. Each had moments of hilarity.

Pleasant’s rendition of mother superior getting accidentally high on a drug called Rush could have been a muddled mash of silliness and hackneyed eye-rolling. It wasn’t, because Pleasant kept the scene tight and simple, delivering his lines without straining for laughs.

McHenry-Kroetch plays Sister Mary Amnesia with a delicate physical slowness and an eye-shifting sense of being lost. His solo, “I Could Have Gone to Nashville,” gave him what every male actor in Spokane wants: a chance to belt out a country tune like Dolly Parton.

“Nunsense A-Men” runs through March 22 at the Civic’s Main Stage. It’s an infectiously fun show because the five actors forget they’re playing women and are having a sinfully good time.


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