It would be a sin to give Stormfield Theatre’s production of “Put the Nuns in Charge” a poor review. Not that the Mother Superior said so specifically, but it seems that skewering a one-person show about a nun giving an earnest lesson in the Seven Deadly Sins would fall under the sin of Pride.
“Nuns” is presented as an interactive, adult education lesson in morality, with the audience members playing the class. Under the stern gaze of a portrait of Pope Benedict, as well as the equally stern, over–the-glasses gaze of Mother Superior (Breeda Kelly Miller), the audience learns about saints and sinners, speeding nuns, and the difference between indulgences and over-indulgence.
Similar in tone to the musical “Altar Boyz,” the play pokes gentle, affectionate fun at the sometimes puzzling beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church. Even though she brandishes the stereotypical knuckle-wrapping ruler, Miller’s Mother Superior is charming and slightly goofy, yet sincerely dedicated to spreading the Good Word.
Michelle Raymond’s set is a perfect reproduction of a parochial elementary school classroom, right down to the handwriting letter chart and poster of the U.S. presidents. Many of these props are functional to the script, such as the apple-shaped container on the Mother Superior’s desk that holds her stash of glow-in-the-dark rosaries. The rosaries, along with her pocketful of trading cards of the saints and other related goodies, serve as prizes for those audiences members game enough to play along with the play.
Miller is adept at reacting to her environment and utilizing the set and props to increase audience participation. On opening night she nailed a smarty-pants in the audience within the first few minutes, bringing him onstage and making him put his nose in a circle she drew on the chalkboard. The simple act of drawing the circle on the board and pointing to it elicited chuckles of familiarity from the audience.
There are patterns built into an interactive show such as this. Picking on one miscreant early in the play allows Miller to build continuity with her audience as participating class members. It also affords her the opportunity to show off the Catholic virtues of redemption and forgiveness, as the rotten apple regained the Mother’s favor in the second act.
There is no redemption without suffering, of course, and the pacing of the opening night show did suffer occasionally. The risk that comes with a show based on improvisation is that it can be a challenge to tie up an improvised gag. Miller was on a roll more often than not, but there were a few moments when she trailed off, rather than ending the piece with a bang.
Miller recovered from the stilted moments quickly, usually by returning to the chalkboard. Literally. The list of sins on the board served as the foundation for the script, upon which Miller could pile contemporary stories and examples of sin. On opening night, for instance, Miller’s material included text messaging, movie theater etiquette, celebrity nuns and Bill Clinton.
“Put the Nuns in Charge” is accessible to and fun for audiences of any or no religious background. It is a silly, crowdpleasing guilty
pleasure, which shouldn’t come as a surprise: After all, Catholics and
guilt go together like bread and wine.
’Put the Nuns in Charge’
Stormfield Theatre 201 Morgan Lane, Frandor. 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 20; 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 21, and Saturday, Jan. 22; 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 23. $18 Thursdays; $24 Fridays and Saturdays; $20 Sundays. Seniors get $2 off any regularprice ticket; students with valid ID $10. (517) 372-0945 www.stormfieldtheatre.org or www.lansingarts.org
Breeda Kelly Miller stars in "Put the Nuns in Charge"