Bay Players, Duxbury’s Community Theater Troupe, uncorked Tom Smith’s “Drinking Habits,” a hilarious sequel (in a way) to their last production, “Nunsense.” It’s not really a sequel – different author, and so on – but it works the same delightful set-up of quirky nuns and priests gone charmingly naughty. Don’t worry your beads about the overlap. Where “Nunsense” works deeply into puns, “Drinking Habits” bounces back with out-and-out farce, a Bay Players specialty. Director Theresa Chaisson and her cast worked the split-second triple-door timing to a T, never rushed and never late. Even on the compact stage at the First Parish Church, suspending our disbelief and relishing the sightline gags was as easy as falling off the wagon.
The premise is simple as a wimple: while the global church has been downsizing, the Sisters of Perpetual Sewing have been hanging on by a thread, hoping to avoid being closed by Rome. Their traditional jobs of growing grapes for grape juice and repairing the world’s clerical garments aren’t quite enough. Though they are the best in the world, there are only three of them: Mother Superior (Donna Frano), and two others, Sister Philamena (Chris Bailey) and Sister Augusta (Eve Montague). Normally the soul of honesty, Mother Superior has secretly spent years pumping the order’s paper numbers to make it seem there are twenty more nuns under her wing (“They’re… on retreat!”). Meanwhile, Srs. Philamena and Augusta have been secretly making and selling wine to “the locals” to keep the convent solvent. Mother Superior absolutely forbids the very mention of alcohol, and when two reporters, Paul and Sally (Jonathan Markella and Sheila Kelleher) arrive on the scene, everyone (including the reporters) decides to keep just about everything a secret from just about everyone else.
Lance Wesley plays splendidly the doting (and mildly doddering) local priest Father Chenille. Only the hilarious climax makes it clear just why he has such an interest in saving his job, and the convent. Jess Corey is radiant as Sister Mary Catherine, who has a secret or two of her own, including a little history with George, the convent’s baffled but loyal caretaker, played with divine comedy and romance by Ted Lillys.
Chris, Eve and Donna put their hearts and souls into the packaged threesome of the Sisters of Perpetual Sewing. Tom Smith wrote buddy-style unity into the comic ensemble of the three Sisters, as brilliant as the Three Musketeers – or the Three Stooges. Farce takes more than mere pratfalls and hiding behind doors, and this threesome give us every reason (with perfect timing) to understand the laughs behind their moves, their tangled web. But when Sister Philamena (Chris) finds some touches of unexpected emotion – well, just hold on to your veil. Chris is an absolute scream.
Jonathan Markella and Sheila Kelleher (like Ted Lillys and Jess Corey) click together. As the once-romantically involved pair of reporters, they bring mistaken identity to a new level – all the way to masquerading as a cleric or two – or five. I lost count, but you can count on a happy ending for nearly all of the lovers. Love and devotion, it turns out, can solve the most tangled intrigues, but I don’t want to spoil the ending.
The last two performances are this weekend at the First Parish Church (the one by Town Hall), 842 Tremont St., this Friday and Saturday, June 29 and 30, at 7:30 p.m. You can buy your tickets on line at bayplayers.org, with a small service fee, or call 781-361-2453 to make a reservation. They’ll call back to confirm.
That’s also the number you would call to get involved. Sheila Kelleher’s bio in the playbill points out that “it takes many hands to put on a production. From tickets to costumes, sets and ushers, there’s plenty to do… join us!” The eight characters on stage this time (or was it eighty – I lost count) are just the tip of the iceberg. Do you miss the social home you found when you were in school and helping to put on a show? Trust me, that home is still there.