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Theater Review : In 'Nunsense II,' the Spirit Is Willing and Able

August 13, 1994|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FULLERTON — The trouble with most sequels is the lack of surprise. A clever idea--whether it's an antebellum South that's gone with the wind, or a fund-raiser given by the Little Sisters of Hoboken to raise cash to bury the dead nuns resting in the convent's freezer--can only pale when retread.

That's the problem with Dan Goggins' "Nunsense II The Second Coming. . . " at Fullerton Civic Light Opera's Theatre on the Green. What was fresh, campy and very funny the first time around, doesn't have much of anywhere to go except over old ground.

That isn't to say there isn't a lot of fun during the Little Sisters' "Thank You Show" for all the theatergoers who supported the sterling primo opus. This time there's a talent scout in the audience and a contrived plot about an incorrigible Italian kid, now in the reformatory, who was kicked out of school by the Mother Superior, Sister Mary Regina.

Then there are the Franciscan nuns who are trying to steal back Sister Mary Amnesia and the fortune she won from Publisher's Clearing House, but they aren't who they seem (don't forget the Italian kid has connections). If you saw the first "Nunsense," that will all make sense to you, and there is a recap for newcomers to the wacky world Goggins has created.

There are two too many serious ballads for a romp like this, and only one of them doesn't seem out of place. There are too many gags Goggins really had to stretch for, and the Sisters don't otherwise have too much that's inventive to spring on their adoring audience.

*

What this production does have, however, is style. Director Rob Barron knows how to put on a show, and he does it with energy and a splashy sense of what pleases audiences. His staging almost makes the writing seem brand new. Barron never lets the tempos flag and keeps his Sisters bounding across the stage like greyhounds.

The Sisters are a joyful, cheery group. Mary-Pat Green is a deliciously varied Mother Superior, sometimes as hard as starch, sometimes caught up in her own covert giddiness, and Debbi Ebert as her No. 2, Sister Mary Hubert, is a perfect second banana. Her double takes are timed to a T.

*

Rita Baretta is good as the eternally dancing novice, Sister Mary Leo, this time trying her best on roller skates. Laura Soltis is too pretty for the ignoble Sister Mary Amnesia but very funny as she reprises Amnesia's hysterical puppet act with hand-held Sister Mary Annette in the incongruous and raucous "The Country Nun." Baretta and Soltis both handle their vocals flawlessly.

But all in all, it's Jennifer Bryce's evening as Brooklyn's Sister Mary Robert Anne, streetwise and smart, funny and a little sad, like the young Giulietta Massina, particularly when she sings that one fitting and touching ballad, "Angeline," about a childhood friend from Brooklyn who used to be a nun too.

* "Nunsense II The Second Coming . . .," Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1201 W. Malvern Ave., Fullerton. Tuesdays through Sundays (dinner included Wed.-Sun. at 7 p.m.), 8:15 p.m. Ends Aug. 27. $30-$31 (Tues. show only, $21). (714) 879-1732. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Mary-Pat Green: Sister Mary Regina

Debbi Ebert: Sister Mary Hubert

Jennifer Bryce: Sister Mary Robert Anne

Laura Soltis: Sister Mary Amnesia

Rita Baretta: Sister Mary Leo

A Fullerton Civic Light Opera Theatre on the Green production, produced by Griff and Jan Duncan, of Dan Goggins' comedy. Directed and choreographed by Rob Barron. Music direction: Diane King Vann. Set design: Gil Morales. Sound design: Nelsonics. Technical direction/lighting design: Steven Craig. Costume design: Ambra Wakefield. Production stage manager: Terry Hanrahan.

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