It has been five years since Charles Busch's The Divine Sister ran Off-Broadway. I saw that production at least 4-5 times. I LOVED the show. It was so funny, so well written, and 100% entertaining! Now, most of the original New York cast (Charles Busch, Julie Halston, Alison Fraser, Jennifer Van Dyck, and Jonathan Walker) is reviving the show at Bucks County Playhouse, with the addition of newcomer Erin Maguire.
In a spoof on Hollywood's "nun movies," The Divine Sister tells the story of The Convent at St. Veronica’s of Pittsburgh which is in desperate need a new school. Mother Superior is determined to get it built no matter what, but first she must deal with a host of colorful, hilarious characters that stand in her way.
The Divine Sister plays at Bucks County Playhouse (70 South Main Street New Hope, PA 18938) through August 13! Click here for tickets!
1. It's been five years since your NYC run of The Divine Sister. Now, you are remounting the show at Bucks County Playhouse from July 22-August 13. What made now the right time to revive the show? What excites you about bringing it to Bucks County Playhouse?
Charles Busch: Since childhood I've been fascinated by theatre history and there is something magical about appearing in a theatre where many years great performers have played. The Bucks County Playhouse has that great tradition. I love looking at the old posters of the many productions that has been on that stage starring the likes of Kay Francis, Shirley Booth and so many others.
Jennifer Van Dyck: We had a delirious time making this play and the run was an extraordinary journey. When Alex Fraser and Robin Goodman asked us to do this revival, Jonathan and I looked at each other and giggled. Absolutely, we thought. But what are the chances that the whole cast could return? It is a complete delight to be back together again as a company, with the wonderful edition of Erin Maguire. Bucks County is where, in my senior year in high school (Princeton, NJ), I received the only award I’ve ever received for acting. My school brought a production of The Importance of Being Earnest and I played "Gwendolyn." This year I returned in May to be a judge for the very same ongoing festival of high school performers. Full circle! Now I get to play on this very same stage, all these many years later.
Charles Busch: I've always enjoyed having the opportunity to revisit an old play of mine. I like to think experience onstage and off have made me a better actor. In my first few plays I lacked the discipline and skill to maintain a role for a long run. It's easy in a stylized comedy to get broader and broader as time goes by. For the past ten or fifteen years I've made a concerted effort to simplify and get more truthful as the run continues without sacrificing any laughs. That's the great challenge. I like to think my closing night performance is my best. Therefore having the chance years later to revisit the role is a way of starting with everything I've discovered in the past and building from there.
Alison Fraser: Hmmm. Some same, some different. I still have the highest regard for Charle Busch's hilarious, thrilling and surprisingly deep script, and getting to revisit the stellar material with four brilliant members of the original cast is an absolute joy.
As for the differences?
1) Our new "Agnes," Erin Maguire, is a delight who brings a fresh perspective to all the scenes we have together, so that is exciting to explore.
2) The world, tragically, has become a much darker place in the last five years, so pointing a gun at the face of people I love, even though we know it's just a play, fills me with a mild bit of revulsion.
3) "Domino's" fabulous black leather corset/miniskirt fits a wee bit more snug these days. Even international Catholic hit- women have to count their calories....
Julie Halston: The best part of all being together again is how we also enjoy each other's company. And I'm personally loving living with Charles again - we haven't done it in a long time and we are really having such a great time - we really DO work well together. We are loving the beautiful area and everyone is helpful smart and fun!!
Jennifer Van Dyck: We laugh our heads off. Rehearsals have been ridiculous since we have to hold ourselves together to get through certain scenes. The difference is that we’re not creating the show from scratch, so there’s not sheer panic. There’s some panic of course (the stage is so much larger: How will I make the quick changes from "Mrs. Levinson" to "Timothy" and back again in time???).
4. What is the funniest thing to happen so far during the rehearsal period?
Julie Halston: The funniest thing that happened is that we lost our rental car at The Giant supermarket and the only way I could finally find it was to push the PANIC BUTTON on the key - it was out of a MARX BROTHERS movie. but we had to get back to rehearsal on time!!!
Jennifer Van Dyck: The fart circle at the top of scene five had to be re-timed because there is more space and it takes longer to get into place from off-stage. Then you add in the sound effects and we could not hold ourselves together during rehearsal. I’m not in that scene, but the whole room went up for grabs.
Jennifer Van Dyck: Laughter, sweat, panic, delirium - all in 90 minutes. Although this time round we’ve added an intermission, so we may have time to catch our breath in the middle (and Bucks County can serve refreshments to the audience).
Jonathan Walker: I love the flow of the show. It’s such an almost perfect play, so complete with no added "fat" from beginning to end. It’s a wicked good ride that’s over before you know it and so much happens during the course of the story. I can’t wait to get that feeling of that wonderful roller coaster. And of course, working, playing and hanging out with this extraordinary cast, creative team and crew at such a wonderful theater. The best.
6. What have you learned about yourselves from starring in this show? This can be about you as a person, your craft, your relationships to each other, etc...
Jennifer Van Dyck: I love the range of silliness that Charles has written for each of us. Precision is key, as in all comedy, but this insists we work on all cylinders: physical, vocal, emotional. I love the challenge of going back and forth between "Mrs. Levinson" and "Timothy."
7. The Divine Sister tells the story of The Convent at St. Veronica’s of Pittsburgh which is in desperate need a new school. Mother Superior is determined to get it built no matter what. When has there been a time in your life when you wanted something so bad that you went after it and got it no matter what?
Erin Maguire: Ironically, I saw The Divine Sister during its run at Soho playhouse. I LOVED it. And I turned to my friend who brought me and said "I want to work with these people. I want to do this show." From that point, I kept my eye on what this nutty troupe was up to. Then I had the opportunity to work with Charles and Carl on Bunnicula, followed by a show at the 92nd Street Y called Here's to the Girls. Then when the opportunity arose to be in The Divine Sister, I jumped at it. It took a few years, but I landed here in Bucks County with the original cast about 5/6 years after I said I would! I guess "The Secret" really does
8. Over the past five years, our world has endured a lot of troubling times. With a comedic show like The Divine Sister, how do you continue to find the laughter and humor during such troubling times?
Jennifer Van Dyck: At times like this, it is even more important to find reasons to laugh and enjoy being in the company of others. The world is not a silly place these days, but it is essential to find little corners of silliness and reasons to giggle, snort and guffaw.
Erin Maguire: Of all the films we spoof, I would most like to star in The Sound of Music. I grew up with this show. Who doesn't love The Sound of Music??? But even as a kid, I was more of an "Elsa" than a "Maria!" So this is the closest I get to being a precious ingenue!
Alison Fraser: Oh this is a slam dunk. My nun film preferences run toward the dark tales, which isn't surprising considering the disturbed "Sister Walburga's" demeanor. I was never a Trouble with Angels/The Sound of Music type. Instead I was drawn to The Nun's Story, The Song of Bernadette, and my all time favorite, the florid uber melodramatic ecclesiastic epic Black Narcissus. And of course the best role in that one is "Sister Ruth," the sex obsessed nun who has a crisis of faith followed by horrible consequences. Fun!
10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day?
Jonathan Walker: I’d love to increase the percentage/interest rate in my savings account! I remember the days when there actually used to be a decent return on one's deposit!!! Lol.