‘Nunsense’ defies conventional humor

The+cast+of+irreverent%2C+comedic+nuns+includes%2C+listed+from+left+to+right%2C+actors+Kelley+Faulkner%2C+Lachrisa+Grandberry%2C+Melody+Betts%2C+Veronica+Garza+and+Candace+Thomas.
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‘Nunsense’ defies conventional humor

The cast of irreverent, comedic nuns includes, listed from left to right, actors Kelley Faulkner, Lachrisa Grandberry, Melody Betts, Veronica Garza and Candace Thomas.

The cast of irreverent, comedic nuns includes, listed from left to right, actors Kelley Faulkner, Lachrisa Grandberry, Melody Betts, Veronica Garza and Candace Thomas.

Photo by Michael Brosilow

The cast of irreverent, comedic nuns includes, listed from left to right, actors Kelley Faulkner, Lachrisa Grandberry, Melody Betts, Veronica Garza and Candace Thomas.

Photo by Michael Brosilow

Photo by Michael Brosilow

The cast of irreverent, comedic nuns includes, listed from left to right, actors Kelley Faulkner, Lachrisa Grandberry, Melody Betts, Veronica Garza and Candace Thomas.

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This winter, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents irreverent comedy with the musical “Nunsense,” featuring a creative team that includes Marquette faculty and alumni.

“Nunsense” officially opened Sunday after preview performances Friday and Saturday, and will play at the Stackner Cabaret Theater — one of the Rep’s three performance spaces — until Jan. 12.

Director Malkia Stampley, who studied theater at Marquette from 1999-2002, said that while she did not want to give too much of the plot away, “Nunsense” is a comedic story set up as a show within a show. It features a group of five nuns in Hoboken, New Jersey, putting on a variety show in a desperate attempt to raise money after disaster befalls their convent.

“It’s a fun, quirky musical but with a lot of heart. … It’s not your typical comedy in that you get to see the heart in people that we usually only see in one way, in one religious, holy way,” Stampley said. “But all these holy people are human — they’re very human. And I learned that at Marquette.”

“Nunsense” is performed by a cast of just five female actresses. Stampley said she made sure to recruit a diverse cast and creative team in terms of race and age. The musical, which was written by Dan Goggin and first came out in 1985, traditionally features a predominantly white cast, but Stampley said she wanted to change that for this production.

While she has performed in multiple shows at the Rep throughout the years, beginning with a yearlong post-college acting internship at the theater, “Nunsense” is Stampley’s first time directing at the Rep.

Stampley said her career had always been focused on acting — such as in roles in “Empire,” “Chicago PD,” “Shameless” and “The Chi” and the film “Native Son.” — until four years ago when she began directing shows.

Stampley’s creative team includes costume designer Deb Krajec, an associate professor in the College of Communication. Krajec was one of Stampley’s professors during her time at Marquette.

Krajec said she was thrilled to take on the position when she heard that one of her former students was the director.

“You don’t often have an opportunity to work with your students after they graduate, so this was really cool,” Krajec said. “You always hope as a teacher that they’re going to go on and do things above and beyond anything you ever taught them, and Malkia certainly has. I mean, she’s terrific. She’s a fabulous actress, a director and I’m tremendously proud of her and so tickled that I got to work with her.”

“Nunsense” was Krajec’s first time in 22 years designing costumes for the Rep. She said she was a costume designer at the Rep for a few shows back in the ’90s.

While Krajec designed the costumes, a team of artisans at the Rep created them. Draping, or creating patterns and basic construction, was completed by a freelance artist named Emily Wille Bustamante, another Marquette graduate, Krajec said.

The creative team’s process began in early spring, and the cast was finalized in August. Rehearsals began Oct. 15.

I saw “Nunsense” on opening night. The Stackner Cabaret is built in a way that made it natural for the performers to interact with the audience, creating an intimate setting. According to the Rep’s website, the Stackner Cabaret is not a dinner theater in that dinner is not served during the production, but when I was there, waiters brought drinks and small desserts to those who ordered them before the show and during intermission.

My initial impression of the show was that it was comedic but mainly geared toward an older audience. Many of the jokes that evoked a smile from me caused the mostly older audience to roar with laughter.

However, it did not take long until I was laughing out loud with everyone else. “Nunsense” features five incredibly talented actresses with extraordinary voices and impeccable comedic timing. The humor is irreverent, clever and offers a variety of jokes referencing religion, musical theater and pop culture. The absolutely unrealistic absurdity of the nuns’ predicament and the show’s randomness — for example, the set is decorated for an eighth grade performance of “Grease,” which is explained at the beginning but never again mentioned — sets the tone for the entire show. Each of the five sisters has her own distinct personality and brand of comedy, displayed in outrageous, over-the-top acts. The show involved lively interactions from the audience, from an audience quiz in the first act to a lively gospel-style finale number that caused the audience to clap and sing along.

I’ll be honest: “Nunsense” was funnier than I expected it to be. The actresses blew me away, and I would recommend the show to anyone looking for a good laugh.

Tickets can be purchased through the Milwaukee Rep’s website, or by calling or visiting the ticket office.

The Milwaukee Rep is Wisconsin’s largest repertory theater, Milwaukee Rep public relations and content director Tegan Gaetano said. A repertory theater is a type of theater where a company, often with resident actors, presents various works throughout a season. Multiple works are often shown at the same time. In the Milwaukee Rep’s case, each year, 15 productions play across the venue’s three theaters, Gaetano said.

“At any one given time, we could potentially have six shows here,” Gaetano said. “We (could) have three in rehearsal in our three different rehearsal rooms, and three onstage — which is a massive amount of people and variables to coordinate.”

The Rep’s three theaters include the Quadracci Powerhouse, the largest of the theaters, but still relatively small and intimate, housing 750 people; the Steimke Studio, a small black box theater with a little over 200 seats that Gaetano said often houses “premieres and more politically, socially critical and probing theater”; and the Stackner Cabaret, which features 186 seats in a dinner theater-setup with a bar in the back and small tables and chairs surrounding a stage.

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