KEARNEY — If the Christmas season feels a little crazy, the sisters of the Mount Saint Helen’s School can help take that craziness to a higher level.
Kearney Community Theatre’s production of “Nuncrackers” celebrates Christmas with an over-the-top musical that adds more than a dash of absurdity to the season. The comedy follows a group of nuns who decide to produce a holiday television special for their local public access cable TV channel. The show spoofs so many aspects of the holiday season that audience members barely can hold on for the ride.
And that aspect makes “Nuncrackers” a delightful, charming and entertaining ingredient in the eggnog of the Christmas season.
“Nuncrackers,” by Dan Goggin, opens today at 7:30 p.m. and continues through Dec. 16 at the theater at 83 Plaza Blvd. Tickets for the musical are $18.
If nothing else, the production entertains with the use of absurdity from nuns who all seem to have “Mary” in their names, to a forbidden nun puppet, to a forgetful nun with the nickname of Sister Amnesia. Played by Taylor Edghill, Sister Mary Paul —a.k.a., Amnesia — announces to the audience that the children will present the holiday ballet, “The Ball Breaker.”
Another member of the convent corrects her by reminding her of the proper title, “The Nutcracker.”
With nine cast members, the show moves quickly despite a slow start where Sister Robert Anne, played by Tasha Dunn-Myers, reads the rules of the house with reminders to silence cellphones and even announces audition dates for the next Kearney Community Theatre production. That mixing of theater and reality sets the tone of the show, but it seems to slow down the start of the absurdity — along with too much exposition about how the convent ended up with enough money to invest in all of this television production equipment in the first place.
Dunn-Myers anchors the show with her portrayal of the mother superior. She tries to tamp down the craziness of the cast, which allows Edghill, as Sister Amnesia, and Gillian Hendrickson, as Sister Mary Leo, to romp through the production with a refreshing look at the Christmas season.
As for the humor, expect silliness such as a set of stick-on Ten Commandments. Sister Mary Paul advises that “if you have a problem with one of the Commandants, you just peel it off.”
The mixes of genres, styles, music and ideas illustrates how far we push the holiday season. And just when it seems that nothing is sacred, Father Virgil Manly Trott, played by Dale Steinhauser, sings a sweet and sincere song about the simple gifts of the season.
And Sister Mary Hubert, played by Jordan Kitzelman, offers another stable anchor to the show. Kitzelman plays the part as a dedicated and thoughtful servant of the Lord, surrounded by others who teeter at the other end of the spectrum.
The production’s strength comes from crossing the line into absurdity. The cast treats the actual audience as just another element of the show. They address the audience in the theater as if those people came to see the taping of the public access television special.
Clara Baruth, Olivia Haskett, Henry Myers and Talyn Ritchie portray the parish children who struggle to present the ballet, “The Nutcracker.” Their characters serve as a reminder to everyone that the Christmas season offers opportunities for children to take the stage and present a heart-filled rendition of just about anything that ties into the Christmas spirit — regardless of talent.
Director Alex Schwarz knows how to wring comedy from his performers and how to shape a production into something that works and thrives on stage. The simple set, suggesting the basement of the Mount Saint Helen’s Convent, serves the story well without a lot of fuss.
The costume crew of Elizabeth Steele, Kathy White and Jeanne Rendon have clothed the cast in costumes that tell a great deal about the characters — from flowing nun habits to the checkered shoes of Father Virgil.
Knowing a little about the Nunsense franchise, a series of six musicals by playwright Dan Goggin, helps to get the audience up-to-speed on the background of the show. That background explains a few loose ends about the characters and the story. It also strengthens the audience for some of the show’s absurdities and happenstance. Bits of the script feel outdated. With the Powerball giving away hundreds of millions of dollars, winning the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes seems rather feeble. The script contains a little of both but it feels like a show written for an audience in the late 1990s.
For audience members who excuse those details and concentrate on the fun of the holiday season, Kearney Community Theatre’s production of “Nuncrackers” will hit the high points of Christmas, poke gentle fun at our year-end holiday and gives us a reason to brave the cold, the snow and the frantic shoppers, all while whistling a cheerful tune from songs of “Nuncrackers.”