The Coaster Theatre Playhouse’s marketing committee came up with a clever tagline to jointly advertise the two wildly different shows in its summer repertoire: “And Then There Were Nunsense.”
Beyond the ability for their titles to be seamlessly tied together, Dan Goggin’s campy and fun-filled musical, “Nunsense,” opening Friday at the Playhouse in Cannon Beach, and Agatha Christie’s murder thriller “And Then There Were None” which opened June 21, are as different as they come.
“It’s going to be very hard not to walk out of the theater with a smile on your face,” said Richard Bowman, who is making his directorial debut with “Nunsense.” “It’s just one of those shows.”
“Nunsense” features an ensemble cast of five women who play the Little Sisters of Hoboken: Heidi Hoffman as Mother Superior; Sue Neuer as Sister Mary Hubert; Ann Bronson as Sister Robert Anne; Cameron Lira as Sister Mary Amnesia and Brittania Williams as Sister Mary Leo.
When their cook accidentally poisons several of the sisters and they realize they desperately need funds for the burials, the sisters decide to put on a variety show.
To host the benefit, they take over the Catholic high school – which is in the process of staging “Grease” – and that sets the backdrop for the audience to become acquainted with each sister’s unique characteristics, history, ambitions and even personal demons.
According to Lira, one of her favorite aspects of the show is “it’s really an ensemble cast.”
“We’re all totally in it together,” she said. “We all have our time in the spotlight and our time as supporting characters.”
‘Humanity within the divinity’
Although Catholicism influences the musical’s setting, religion is not a central theme.
When it does surface, Hull and Bowman said, the approach to it is neither preachy or overbearing nor irreverent or disrespectful. Rather, the central themes highlight various facets of the human condition, such as conflict and resolution, the interplay between vastly different personalities and the occasional tension between personal goals and altruism.
The show also explores the ways in which these devout nuns are, at the end of the day, still human.
“It’s really humanity within the divinity,” Davis said.
Hull agreed, adding faith and spirituality merely influence the “circumstance through which you get to see into each of these characters.”
Bowman has a special relationship with “Nunsense,” as seeing the show was his first community theater experience.
Directing the musical was coming “full circle,” he said.
His goal throughout the process was primarily to have fun with the actors, but also to teach them something they didn’t know, whether that be theater terminology, stage directions or a new skill.
Through collaboration, the crew – which includes music director Darren Hull, choreographer Marco Davis and stage manager Heather Spivey – developed a show full of heart.
The benefit at the high school the sisters are throwing “is coming from a place of love and hope and desperation,” Bowman said.
A thrilling alternative
In contrast to the peppy and occasionally bawdy “Nunsense,” director Mick Alderman left the dark, detestable traits of each character raw and unvarnished for “And Then There Were None.”
The show starts with 10 strangers, each bearing a deep secret and troubled past, being summoned to a remote island.
As inclement weather prevents them from returning to the mainland, they begin getting murdered one by one according to lines of a sinister nursery rhyme.
Originally, Alderman’s familiarity with the production as he had seen it performed previously caused him to forget “all the horrible things these characters had done,” as they generally are glossed over.
A common style now, Alderman added, is to stage Agatha Christie plays in a fluffy, almost lighthearted way.
Although Christie’s plays don’t bear close scrutiny because of their absurd premises, Alderman said she certainly made this show in particular “as dark as she could and put a whole lot of clues throughout the dialogue and stage directions as to how she wants these characters to be played.”
Those directions sparked his interest to do the show “more in the tone that I think Dame Agatha intended,” he said.
“I thought, ‘I want to emphasize those darker aspects.’”