More Nunsense 

Dan Goggin extends the franchise.

So these three nuns go into a bar -- or make that a cruise ship -- with their Mother Superior in tow. If that sounds like a joke about to be turned to gummy paste, fortunately that's not a problem for the cast of Meshuggah-Nuns!, the latest installment in Dan Goggin's wildly popular Nunsense series. The jokes -- even the one that you may have heard before in one form or another -- just seem to spill out in effortlessly funny profusion.

Meshuggah-Nuns! is a bit of a coup for the Willows. Not only did Goggin decide to premiere the show here, but he also agreed to direct it. Concord has been good to the Little Sisters of Hoboken (this is their fifth outing since 1983, each of which has graced the Willows) so Goggin decided to return the favor with what he calls an "affectionate Valentine" to the nuns who were his grade-school teachers. Here the Willows picks up the steam they lost with Spitfire Grill, wisely choosing something light, fluffy, and new for their Christmas season show.

The sisters are well-cast, including the return of Cathleen Riddley as Sister Hubert (Riddley raised the bar as Aldonza in their season-opening Man of La Mancha; she's not as central here but still excellent) and the use of veteran Nunsensers Diana Torres Koss and Amy Washburn, as well as Richard Frederick and recent Rocky Horror alumna Mindy Stover. The ship is the Golden Delicious, heading out on a Faiths of All Nations cruise. While the passengers have been promised "a different faith-based musical every week," almost the entire cast of Fiddler on the Roof has succumbed to seasickness. So it's up to the lone survivor -- the actor slated to play Tevye -- and those plucky nuns to save the day, while finding the common ground between Catholicism and Judaism. Which they do by cobbling together a variety show that includes some magic tricks, a disgraced puppet, an audience-participatory game of bingo, and a passel of songs.

Some of those last are real groan-inducers, such as the Village People homage "Matzo Man" with the nuns wearing various hats and headdresses over their wimples. The songs, while well-executed by the cast, are generally the weakest link in the show. One number where Tevye and Sister Robert Anne are comparing notes on the love that has changed their life -- his for his wife, hers for God -- is just gooey. Sister Robert Anne also gets "A Song to Sing," where she shows off all the different styles she can sing, but never gets to follow through on one or another. It's a neat trick, but frustrating; Koss apparently really can sing everything from torch to opera to Elvis, but she doesn't get to let it rip. "Leave them wanting more" has never been truer than in this case. And yet some of the songs are very catchy, such as the Andrews Sisters-esque "Three Shayna Maidels" (a pretty girl -- not, as you might think from the song, a girl desperate to get married). And the dancing is pretty good for women in habits and sensible shoes, although Frederick gets most of the scene-stealing moves on that front, especially when he moonwalks wearing a tallith and yarmulke.

Breezy and good-spirited, Meshuggah-Nuns! skirts the edges of stereotype (other than a few digs at the Irish) and the cast appears to be having a great time. These actors have made Meshuggah-Nuns! a habit (sorry, low-hanging fruit) and their ease with the material and each other makes the show a sweet, amusing diversion.


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