Is anything sacred to Charles Busch? The prolific comedian has spoofed just about every genre there was over the years, from Vampire Lesbians of Sodom to Red Scare on Sunset, and now he has moved on to the Catholic Church. The Divine Sister, currently in performances at the SoHo Playhouse, delves into the secret lives of nuns and what lurks beneath their habits. Starring Busch as Mother Superior, complete with black mascara and red lipstick, The Divine Sister contains all the elements of an over-the-top satire: forbidden relationships, illegitimate babies and even an evil monk lurking in the cellars of the convent plotting a secret conspiracy.
Busch doles out many of his trademark references to old films such as The Sound of Music and The Singing Nun and more recent ones such as The Da Vinci Code and The Name of the Rose as well as references to Cherry Jones in the recent Broadway production of Doubt. He even performs an amusing rendition of a religious song, glibly lip-synching to a recording of a lovely soprano.
Busch’s play is not merely a satire of entertainment. It also pokes fun at the institutions of religion itself, including the role Catholicism has played in social and scientific progress.
“My dear, we are living in a time of great social change,” Mother Superior says to another of the nuns. “We must do everything in our power to stop it.”
Busch is joined onstage by an able supporting cast, with Julie Halston as Sister Acacius, the convent wrestling coach and the evil Sister Wallburga, played to comedic heights by Alison Fraser. Agnes, a fresh-faced postulant, is played by Amy Rutberg in a hilariously innocent performance.
Despite their somber appearances, all of the sisters have secrets in their pasts, which unfold as the play progresses. Apparently Mother Superior was a girl reporter in an earlier life (an amusing send-up to His Girl Friday, perhaps?) and shared an ill-fated love affair with a fellow reporter (Jonathan Walker, playing the straight man to Busch). The affair resulted in a love child who, not surprisingly, has ended up in her close circle as an adult. Throw in a conspiracy to reveal a secret the Catholic Church has tried to keep hidden and a hunchback monk (also played by Walker) and top it off with a few tricks Mother Superior has up her sleeve to outsmart everyone and you have a typical evening of Busch.
The jokes become a little raunchy at times (there are only so many bodily function jokes an audience can withstand in one evening) but the clever and cheery humor can’t help but leave a smile on one’s face. And in today’s world, that might truly be a miracle.