Cast in back-to-back productions with Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre – first as Marmee in “Little Women,” and closing the season as Mother Superior in “Nunsense” – Ann Benson has had her hands full with two very different groups of “sisters.”
On the heels of a failed expedition to a leper colony in Greece, a poorly made vichyssoise soup poisons 52 members of the Little Sisters of Hoboken. Scrambling to the convent afloat, the surviving sisters and their Mother Superior engage in various schemes and scams culminating in a variety show revue to raise the necessary funds to bury their remaining deceased.
“Nunsense” opens at North Idaho College’s Schuler Performing Arts Center on Friday.
“It was it is quite a switch going between those two,” Benson said. “A bit of an identity crisis.”
Half-way through their “Little Women” performance dates, Benson had to somehow find a balance that would let her play the calm, strong Marmee after rehearsing all day for “Nunsense.”
“Mother Superior wants to be calm and strong,” she said. “But she’s just this very silly, very flawed person that does very outlandish things to try to hang on to her dignity.”
Benson admits she was often jealous of her “Little Women” castmates getting afternoons off to go to the lake.
“I was doing rehearsals from 9 to 4 and at 4 o’clock I would be released from ‘Nunsense’ and have like an hour and a half to eat dinner and get ready to do ‘Little Women’ at night,” she said. “That was really crazy – trying to switch gears like that.”
But in the end it was all worth it.
“They’re both really great roles – and I’m happy to do it.”
After playing the almost too perfect Marmee, Benson has been relishing in the opportunity to really lean into the comedy of Mother Superior.
“I just realized how fun and funny she was – I kind of relate to her striving so hard to do a good job of being a leader … trying so hard to do it right and failing so miserably,” she said.
Imagine Lucy Ricardo joining a convent and you’ve got Mother Superior.
“It’s pretty awesome to be in a show where it’s five women getting to be funny,” she said.
Refreshingly, Benson explained, the sisters are all written with distinct personalities. Second in command to Mother Superior is Sister Mary Hubert (Rachae Vargas), the mistress of novices. Then we have Sister Robert Anne (Mia Goodman), the wisecracking, class clown who’s just a little bit naughty; Sister Mary Amnesia (Nicole Delbridge), who, doesn’t remember who she is; and finally Sister Mary Leo (Leilani Santiago), who dreams of becoming the first, world-famous ballerina nun.
“It’s kind of like a superhero routine … we each bring a different skill to the pot,” she said.
“As a mom, I’m excited to have my teenage daughters come and see … a comic show that’s really in the hands of women.”
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