What happens when 52 nuns fall fatally ill with botulism? Hilarity. A bizarre combination perhaps, but one that can only be found at Limelight Actors Theater’s newest show, “Nunsense”. The 1985 musical-comedy has been a tremendous success off-Broadway. The show made its debut in Gilroy last Friday—appropriately enough, on April Fools Day.
Nunsense tells the story of the Little Sisters of Hoboken, who are in dire straits after the death of most of their order at the hands of some tainted soup. Five of the surviving nuns decide to put on a show to raise money for the convent. The money, in a hysterically morbid twist that comes to characterize the show, is needed to bury four botulism-stricken nuns in the convent’s freezers. What proceeds is part-cabaret and part-vaudeville, featuring singing and dancing numbers, a quiz for the audience, and moments in which the cast comically break the fourth-wall.
“This show was on my bucket-list,” director and Limelight owner Kevin Heath said. “I know that it’s been done a lot but I just really love the show and I wanted to put our twist on it.”
Heath enlisted the help of three veteran actors of the show. Carol Harris plays Sister Hubert, the wisest and most humble nun of the group. Sister Mary Amnesia, whose comedic fodder comes from her forgotten memory, is played by Rosalind Farotte. Sister Robert Anne, the mischievous and daring nun of the group, is played by Betsy Andrade.
Limelight’s production of the show marks the fifth time Farotte has played Sister Mary Amnesia. Farotte also had the opportunity to work with her daughter, Elizabeth Farotte Heenan, who served as the choreographer for the show.
“I think that you become more confident,” Farotte said. “You become more comfortable throwing stuff in there. Before, I’d worry about it or hold back.”
During one part of the show, Farotte plays with the audience, walking around the dinner tables of the theater, throwing zingers here and there and making pop-culture references that a pious nun shouldn’t know. Heath said that only 30% of Farotte’s antics were scripted, with the other 70% improvised on the fly by the actress.
Andrade, who has also played her character for the fifth time, said she identifies most with Sister Robert Anne.
“She’s kind of rough around the edges but I think she’s got a really big heart,” Andrade said. “And I went all the way through Catholic school, from kindergarten through college.”
The five are led by the demanding but light-hearted Sister Mary Regina, played by JoAnna Evans. Finally, Sister Leo, the naive novice of the group, is played by Roberta Vinkhuyzen. Limelight’s “Nunsense” is the first production in which Evans and Vinkhuyzen have been cast in the play.
“Kevin calls up and says, “Please, please be Mother Superior!,’” said Evans. “I’ve directed for several years now and it was a chance to get back into acting and singing.”
Evans describes her character as having the illusion of being in control while simultaneously prone to fun and mischief like the other nuns. At one point during the show, Sister Mary Regina finds contraband from one of the nuns, which launches the group into the uproarious song, “Tackle That Temptation.”
“As a group of actors working together, we bond very closely to each other and it’s a very supportive atmosphere,” said Roberta Vinkhuyzen of the all-female cast in “Nunsense”. “It makes it a lot easier to bury your soul on stage.”
“Nunsense” is Vinkhuyzen’s first musical at Limelight, although she has performed in other shows at the theater, such as “Steel Magnolias” and “The MOMologues.”
The supportive atmosphere Vinkhuyzen describes is an important factor in the production of the show. The cast of “Nunsense” never wavers. Their confidence is palpable and every part of the performance is organic, so much so that one has to wonder if these women don’t have a little bit of their characters’ qualities in them.
“The people that walk up on our stage are all A-list actors,” Heath said. “And the play is never offensive and always humorous.”
Heath hand-picks each of the cast members for a production. He knew that when he opened Limelight in 2011, “Nunsense” would eventually hit the theater.
“Nunsense” is for the zany and eccentric part of all of us. Its broad appeal comes from its mixture of low-brow and high-brow humor. It is irreverent, yes, but it has a certain charm that reminds us that everyone likes to laugh. Even nuns.
“Nunsense” is playing at the Limelight Actors Theater, at the Gilroy Center for the Arts on 7341 Monterey St, through the end of April. For a schedule of performances and ticket-prices, go to limelightactorstheater.com.