Saturday, November 23, 2002


Christmas is coming and the holiday productions are beginning roll out. The Winters Theatre Company may be the first to log in with its production of Dan Goggin's "Nuncrackers," (directed by Howard Hupe) running through December 7 for the general public, at the Winters Community Center, with a special production on December 8 as a fund raiser for Soroptomists.

It would be pointless to review the script for this silly pastiche, or to complain that the jokes are familiar and the bits predictable, or that the performances were not polished, nor the voices trained. All that may be true, but the fact is that despite everything, the show is a hoot. It's a wonderful piece for a small amateur theatre and it mixes script with ad lib so well that the line flubs are hardly noticeable--or are they scripted? Who can tell?

The premise is that the Little Sisters of Hoboken, first introduced to the theatre-going public in Goggins' hit, "Nunsense," have come into some money (Sister Mary Paul--"Amnesia"--won the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstake) and the sisters are going to have their annual Christmas pageant filmed for television. The idea of the cameras rolling and the actions being filmed seems to be forgotten about a quarter of the way into the first act, but who cared?

As the production begins, the nuns walk through the seating area, interacting with the patrons. If you have a Catholic school background, you want to sit up straight and say "yes, sister!"

The action moves to the stage and we meet The Little Sisters of Hoboken--Mother Superior (Sister Mary Regina), known in a previous life as Gloria Marion is the epitome of a mother superior--she's stern, but has a heart of gold, she's strict, but loose enough to don a pink tutu over her habit and dance the Sugarplum Fairy. She tries to keep things all together, but watches things unravel, bit by funny bit.

Sister Mary Hubert (Laurie Brown in secular life) is her second in command, comfortable whether supporting Mary Regina or singing the hysterical "In the Convent" with the rest of the cast a la The Village People.

The Brooklyn Born Sister Robert Anne (Diane Taylor to her family) is a wisecracking, tough exterior nun who shows her softer side when singing "When Jesus was born in Brooklyn," describing an emotional childhood Christmas.

And then there is dear, ditzy Sister Mary Paul, who used to be Gina Wingard, who seems to be in a perpetual daze and who can't quite get things right, but who is so loveable that everyone puts up with her, fondly.

Sister Mary Annette is not identified by former name in the program, but let's just say that she is the nun who is the most easily manipulated.

Sister Mary Ignatius, the convent musician, is only briefly seen peeking out from behind the piano, perhaps remembering her days when she was known as Lynne Secrist.

Every convent has a liaison with the local parish priest and Father Virgil Trott (Trent Beeby) fills the bill nicely, even when he needs to substitute for absent Sister Julia (Child of God), doing a demonstration of how to make a fruitcake. One of the funnier bits of the show.

What would a convent Christmas pageant be without the participation of some of the school kids? Austen Dahn, Olivia Wingard, Alec Bouwens, Catherine Wennig and irresistable Brandon Emery are perfectly cast. Professional enough to be disciplined performers, but still the stereotypical grammar school kids bumbling through musical numbers. Dahn does a lovely solo on "O Holy Night."

Set design is by Ken Grubaugh, Bob Taylor, Mark Dahn and Howard Hupe. It's the perfect Christmas setting which not only decorates the whole stage in holiday fashion, but makes clever use of turntables to make a Christmas tree become a nativity scene and a partition become a cooking demonstration table. The additional pieces for the children's "teapot" number are very clever.

Laura Bouwens, Heather Collins and Germaine Hupe have created the costumes. Not only are the nuns' habits authentic looking, but the additions, such antlers, halos, aprons, and the aforementioned tutus add to the fun.

This production of "Nuncrackers" is very definitely worth the drive to Winters. You'll leave with a big smile on your face and holly in your heart.

(And don't forget to read the whole program--it's almost as much fun as the show itself.)

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