“The Divine Sister” At HotCity Brings A Touch Of Naughty And Nice And A Whole Lot Of Laughter To This Holiday Season

Lavonne Byers and John Flack in "The Divine Sister" at HotCity. Photo: Todd Studios.

Lavonne Byers and John Flack in “The Divine Sister” at HotCity. Photo: Todd Studios.

It’s not Julie Andrews and definitely not Rosiland Russell, but a gender-bending performance by John Flack as Mother Superior makes “The Divine Sister” one of my favorite shows about nuns. Not for the faint of heart, the show brings highly suggestive subject matter and downright off-color language to an art form that would make Jessica Lange blush on “American Horror Story: Asylum.” But the side-splitting humor and the abundance of movie and TV references (not just about nuns) makes this a must-see production at HotCity theatre.

With a plot borrowed from a dozen or so B movies, “The Divine Sister” features the nuns in 1966 Pittsburgh who are facing a crumbling convent and school so Mother Superior decides to call on the local rich “Jewess” and convince her to give up her nearby mansion as a new school and fund the building of a new convent. This goes over like a “nasty habit” until circumstances evolve which bring nun and dowager to the same purpose. In the meantime we get to see life before the convent for the Mother Superior as well in a series of flashbacks while we enjoy a bevy of zany characters throughout including nuns, disguised nuns, mad monks, newspaper reporters and even an eager little male student who dreams of becoming Mickey Mantle.

John Flack, from his first entrance on a bicycle (who can resist a nun on a bicycle?) to his life as a dame on the daily beat of a big city newspaper to his unexpected resolution to the revival of the convent, is nothing short of hysterical. He amps it up without being overtly “campy.” It’s a truly sincere performance that makes it even funnier. Kirsten Wylder is also brilliant as the hard-boiled Brooklyn nun who is always suspicious of everything around her. Playing Sister Agnes- who sees visions of her beloved St. Clare in urine-stained underpants and believes she has stigmata only to find Maraschino cherries in her hands instead- is played with equally sincere camp by Alyssa Ward.

Alyssa Ward, Lavonne Byers and Kirsten Wylder discuss the merit of "holy" stained underwear in HotCity's production of "The Divine Sister." Photo: Todd Studios.

Alyssa Ward, Lavonne Byers and Kirsten Wylder discuss the merit of “holy” stained underwear in HotCity’s production of “The Divine Sister.” Photo: Todd Studios.

Lavonne Byers takes command as a German nun who works well in either a habit or skin-tight leather jump suit. But where she really shines is an old washer woman with stoop shoulders and a heavy, unidentifiable accent that fits into this nonsense quite well. Chopper Leifheit also delights in a few roles including a mad monk a la “DaVinci Code” and as the love interest to our Mother Superior’s former life. In a show full of scene stealers, Susie Wall fits right in with the roles of Mrs. Levinson- the rich and pompous neighbor and (also in a gender-bending role) as the precocious young Timmy who lets it all hang out with an odd hitting stance and with his outspoken reference to his “nickname” from the bullies in the schoolyard.

HotCity’s Artistic Director, Marty Stanberry, has directed this Charles Busch opus with the proper amount of tongue-in-cheek. The humor never stops with one-liners, outrageous situations and generally profane behavior all around. In other words, a wonderful holiday classic. The clever James Holborow set design has just the right amount of decay with a surprise twist when we enter the mansion of Mrs. Levinson. Add the effective lighting design of Maureen Berry and the costumes of Jane Sullivan (yes, a lot more than just nun’s habits) and you’ve got a total package.

Playwright and actor Charles Busch is well known for writing “unusual” plays and then taking the female lead in drag. In this production, John Flack does the playwright proud and the rest of the cast gets into the spirit as well. Outrageous  humor is the order of the day but, as I said, it has a definite adult twist. So enjoy “The Divine Sister” for what it is through December 15th- you won’t be disappointed. Give them a call at 314-289-4063 or visit them at hotcitytheatre.org for tickets or more information.

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