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Forces of Habit 

Mary Chase won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945 for her comedy Harvey. Harvey, the name-giving character, does not appear in the play. He does enter, but he does not appear -- for the simple reason that he is invisible. Does his entrance prove his existence? Or, are we watching an epidemic of hallucination? You can weigh in on that philosophic conundrum by hightailing it to the Mount Olive Lutheran Church Auditorium. Don't be discouraged by the terra incognita sound of the location; it's only two blocks off Metairie Road, right before you come to Causeway.

Harvey, as most people know by now, is an invisible (and possibly imaginary) 6-foot rabbit. He is the constant companion of Elwood P. Dowd, a mild-mannered guy who likes a drink or two. Though, in fact, we never see him drunk. If he's not imaginary, then Harvey is a Pooka, which is a Celtic spirit that takes animal form. Why has this Pooka taken up residence in the United States during the tail end of the war years? That's anybody's guess. But, to Elwood's sister Veta, this invisible rabbit is a social embarrassment. And Veta, who has vaulting social ambitions, wants the Pooka removed from Elwood's brain. So she deposits Elwood in Chumley's Rest, a private sanatorium run by a famous psychiatrist. The complications involving the Chumley staff, the Dowd family and the invisible rabbit follow fast and furious.

Roland "Butch" Caire, who co-directed the show, takes the part of Elwood, whom he imbues with a bland, likable innocence. His Elwood is a sort of sacred fool. Meredith Long Dieth goes into hyper-Margaret-Dumont-mode as Veta. Dieth is often very funny, though sometimes you get the feeling someone slipped amphetamines into the Waterford punch bowl. Michael Sullivan, as Dr. Chumley, brings down the house (as he is wont to do) with his hapless honesty and inspired silliness. Co-director Stacy Taliancich creates a believable, attractive, put-upon nurse.

I salute the Artists' Cooperative Theater (and founder Caire) for taking on this vast multi-use hall with its small proscenium stage. The Cooperatives give it their best, and there is much to enjoy, though for me the whimsy of the script is pretty thin stuff. Furthermore, too short it's not.

Meanwhile, over at Rivertown Rep, the nun industry recently got a working over, with Dan Goggin's Nunsense II, and there is a thriving nun industry out there, folks. A quick spin through Google brought up Nunsense 3, Meshuggah Nuns (the Jewish take on the sisterhood), Nunsense A-Men (a cross-dressing version) and last but not least, Convent Store (where you can buy "nunstuff"). All of this is, of course, spun off from Goggin's original Nunsense, which opened on Broadway in 1985 and became a movie in 1993. That original Nunsense has been knocking around the theater circuit for years, including hereabouts -- most recently, I think, in Chase Waites' production at Carlone's Dinner Theater in 2000.

Well, in Nunsense II, we are back with the Little Sisters of Hoboken and their Mount St. Helen's school. Much of the problems from the first Nunsense are quickly reprised, though you feel the situation is similar to The Rocky Horror Show in that you're supposed to be a member of the sect and not in need of guidance. In brief, a nun/cook poisoned 52 of her colleagues with botulism-enriched vichyssoise. Then there was a general star-struck mayhem generated by a musical show the nuns put on to raise funeral funds. Add to that a whole bunch of nun jokes, Catholic jokes and what you might call convent humor, which is somewhat akin to locker room humor, but instead of the quarterback saying "I screwed up," the Mother Superior says it.

Under Gary Rucker's confident direction, the cast brims with brio and carries the audience along for a fun-filled musical ride. Sister Robert Anne (JoAnn Mehrtens), Sister Mary Paul (Robyn Menzel) and Sister Mary Leo, (Carrie Black) kept their vows, if not their heads, under the boisterous supervision of the Mistress of Novices (Claire Conti) and the Reverend Mother (Helen Blanke). All were in good voice and rocked the cloister with 19 catchy songs.

James Jennings designed the oddly operetta-inspired set. Linda Fried provided costumes and choreography, while Lori Dewitt gets a tip of the hat for musical direction.

This entertainment did not march inexorably from beginning to end so much as it meandered -- but it meandered pleasantly enough, due to the charm of the cast.

click to enlarge Multiple-personality disorder: Roland ÒButchÓ - Caire deftly juggles his roles as co-director and starring as - Elwood P. Dowd in the Artists' Cooperative Theater's current - mounting of Harvey.
  • Multiple-personality disorder: Roland ÒButchÓ Caire deftly juggles his roles as co-director and starring as Elwood P. Dowd in the Artists' Cooperative Theater's current mounting of Harvey.


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