Monday, November 26, 2012

Catholic Silliness

“Nuncrackers” at Capital Playhouse

Reviewed by Alec Clayton

Matthew Flores, Kate Ayers and Lauren O'Neill

Capital Playhouse has endured a series of incredible setbacks over the past two years, and the people who keep it going — from the administration to actors, directors and backstage crew — are talented, dedicated and hard-working, and very nice people. I very much wanted “Nuncrackers” to succeed. But it did not. It fell flat opening night, and the person who warrants most of the blame is writer and lyricist Dan Goggin.

It is the umpteenth sequel to “Nunsense,” Goggin’s highly successful cabaret-style musical comedy of 1985. The original was hilarious when Capital Playhouse did it three years ago with at least one of the same actors who are gracing their stage this year, Stephanie Nace as Sister Mary Paul, aka Amnesia, and the director of “Nuncrackers,” Heidi Fredericks as Sister Robert Anne. The humor in that show was sophisticated despite its silliness. But in this spinoff — despite the same writer and an equally talented cast — the comedy bits were just ridiculous. I suspect Goggin has milked that cow for all she’s worth and the teats are dry. 

I certainly can’t blame the cast. They give it their all plus some, even entertaining patrons in the lobby before the show. Cast members sang Christmas Carols in the lobby. Patrick Wigren as Father Virgil Manly Trott sang “Silent Night” in the style of Carol Channing — a credible impersonation. And as the audience took their seats the enthusiastic cast volunteered to serve as ushers, chatting up the audience. The demarcation between the pre-show performances and the actual show was as nicely murky as the borders between Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater.

The high-energy, holiday cheer was certainly in evidence throughout the evening. Still, it fell flat. The jokes simply were not as funny or as clever as those in “Nunsense.” 

“Nuncrackers” continues the story of the Little Sisters of Hoboken, and brings back all five nuns from the original. It is set at Christmastime, and it is the first "TV Special" for local cable access filmed in the basement studio of their convent — named interestingly enough after Mt. St. Helens, even though they’re in New Jersey. 

The play is filled with traditional carols ("Joy to the World") and irreverent takeoffs on classics ("Santa Ain't Comin' to Our House" and "It's Better to Give Than to Receive").

Matthew Flores in drag again following his outstanding drag performance in “Hair” plays Sister Mary Hubert; Nace reprises her role as Sister Amnesia; Lauren O’Neill, newly hired as the managing director of Capital Playhouse, plays Sister Robert Anne; Alessa Daniel is Sister Mary Leo; and Kate Ayers plays Reverend Mother Regina. Plus there is a chorus of talented child actors: Jack Steiner, Claire Halperin, McKenna Soderberg and Skyler Zimmerman.

The cast is talented. They sing well and give it their all. Wigren, one of the most talented musical comedy performers to emerge on South Sound stages in the past few years, manages to make even the stupidest comedy bits funny. Witness him sipping sip after sip of vodka while doing a TV cooking show.  

There are some pretty good musical numbers and a few funny jokes. The opening night audience seemed to enjoy it. There was even a standing ovation. So maybe I’m just being a Grinch and a Scrooge, but I didn’t stand at the end and I can’t recommend this show.

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 16
Where: Capital Playhouse: 612 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
Tickets: $28-39
More information: 360-943-2744,

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