At first glance they’re just five men hanging out—some with untamed beards; some in hoodies and sweats—until the piano starts. One purses his lips, one jumps on his dainty toes, they all begin to sing and suddenly they’re a gaggle of hilarious nuns. The cast for Open Space Café Theatre’s Nunsense A-Men! has been rehearsing in a small church classroom for the past two weeks. Last Tuesday I got a closer look at how these men were handling the transformation.
Stephen Hale (Sister Mary Regina), Macon Shirley (Sister Mary Amnesia), Jay Smith (Sister Mary Robert Anne) and Carlos Luis Nieto (Sister Mary Leo) have all performed in past productions of the play, leaving Brian Kilpatrick (Sister Mary Hubert) as the only “virgin nun” in his first performance.
“It’s not as hard as you would think; I hate to say that,” Hale laughed about performing as a woman. “The most difficult part is the mannerisms.”
“I just think of a Disney princess,” Nieto said about how he gets into character. As the ballerina nun, Nieto is the most feminine of the characters and has one of the most obvious—and smileinducing—transitions when it’s time for the curtain to rise.
One thing they all point out is that even though they’re performing as nuns, and sometimes have very feminine characteristics and interests, they’re not making fun of women, nor pretending to be them. After all, the show was written with the male roles in mind.
“It’s not a drag show. There’s no heavy makeup because we’re nuns. So you very quickly get past the fact that you’re a woman,” Hale said.
Smith noted that it was an easier transition for him because he’s always viewed nuns as non-sexual beings anyway, so seeing a nun as a man instead of a woman didn’t seem too far off.
“That’s one of the tricks,” Smith said. “You’re not playing a ‘woman.’ We’re not caricatures. We’re real people. The characters are very human and it makes them more loveable.”
Of course, Smith’s character is the most masculine of the characters as the convent’s mechanic nun.
Hale’s role might just be the most difficult—not just because his character is the Reverend Mother—but because he’s also the play’s director.
“I’ll often catch myself making mental (director’s) notes and then miss a line or lyric, so there’s a fine line there on which hat I’m wearing,” Hale said. “That’s one of the biggest challenges for me.”
Hale said he doesn’t normally spread himself so thin, but made the exception since he was already familiar with the show and the cast.
With such a small cast, the group chemistry on stage and off is just as important as rehearsing. These guys know each other well from past productions and even hang out off stage. Hale was even the Master of Ceremonies at Kilpatrick’s wedding.
“It gives you the license to play without that fear of being judged by others,” Hale said. “The fact that we know each other gives us a little more leeway to try new things.”
Although that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few partners getting a kick out of seeing their men singing, dancing and giggling like a bunch of school nuns. Kilpatrick said his wife is mostly enjoying the fact that he’s in a play that involves dancing. “(My dancing) is a big joke in the theatre world,” Kilpatrick laughed. He added that his 11-year-old daughter is delighted, as well, and he even catches her singing his songs in the car.
The show itself is take on the original Nunsense written by Dan Goggin, but with men cast in the roles instead of women. The nuns sing about their lives in the convent and dish about the fun they get into, even though their nuns. Each nun has a different background and loveable personality.
Judging from the rehearsals, the upcoming Greensboro performance is going to be a clever, but silly one. “It’s non-stop laughter,” Hale said.
“It’s also never the same show twice,” Hale added. Each year new songs are added to align with more current events. Without giving too much away, Hale hinted that some of this year’s new ad-libs include 50 Shades of Nuns and the Miracle Pizzeria. !
Open Space Café Theatre performs Nunsense A-Men! April 17-26 o n the Crown stage at Carolina Theatre, 310 S. Greene St., Greensboro. Tickets are $24. For tickets and more information call 333-2605 or visit osctheatre.com.