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February 16, 2011

A New York indulgence: Charles Busch's 'The Divine Sister'

I've slipped away to New York with the other half for a couple of days (terribly irresponsible of me, I know, but I have to use up some accumulated leave in the next few months). My blogging may be a little more sporadic than usual until I get back. Please forgive.

Tuesday night, we caught a show I had seen last November while here for the Baltimore Symphony's Carnegie Hall gigs -- "The Divine Sister," written by and starring the, well, divine, Charles Busch at the SoHo Playhouse. I thought at the time Robert should see it, too, since he's the world's most devoted fan of vintage Hollywood and this play resounds with references to the good olds days, with particularly emphasis on the irresistible Rosalind Russell.

So there we were Tuesday with other folks who braved the cold and blustery night to drink in the antics of a Mother Superior (think Roz Russell in "Trouble With Angels" and its sequel), and her heroic efforts to save St. Veronica's with her brash sidekick, Sister Acacius (the Mary Wickes role, of course).

It's an awfully clever show, right down to the send-up of "The Da Vinci Code" and any number of other twists, turns and treats -- a splash of "His Girl Friday," complete with overlapping dialogue; a quick nod to "Gypsy." And, since we're talking nuns, we're talking singing nuns, and that, too, results in some amusing moments in the production.

Busch makes

a superlative Mother Superior, just as you would expect; his ready-for-my-close-up reactions shots are terrifically funny just by themselves.

The rest of the cast matches the creator for energy and distinctive tics. Julie Halston is a hoot as Acacius. With a high-pitched, nearly impenetrable German accent, Alison Fraser's mysterious Sister Walburga is a riot. Jennifer Van Dyck's monologue as the rich, defiantly atheistic Mrs. Levinson is a little tour de force all its own.

Colorful work comes as well from Jonathan Walker in a couple of plot-thickening roles and Marcy McGuigan as the oddball novitiate Agnes (she's actually the standby for that part, normally played by Amy Rutberg, but McGuigan happened to play it both times I caught the show).

Delivering a 90-minute jolt of of humor, silliness, satire and, yes, even affection, "The Divine Sister" is, to paraphrase from "Auntie Mame," an old-fashioned, campy miracle, that's what it is.

Posted by Tim Smith at 8:07 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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