Divine Intervention

by Tim Parks

Rage Monthly

Tuesday May 21, 2013

For playwright Charles Busch the concept for his play, "The Divine Sister," was nothing short of creative divine intervention.

In this, his ode to movies featuring nuns in starring roles (think Audrey Hepburn, Julie Andrews and Rosalind Russell) he managed to turn this wholesome 1960s fare "on its habit" for a lovingly wicked parody, portraying "The Divine Sister" role of Mother Superior himself in its original run.

Busch has tapped into Hollywood's golden age funny bone with film efforts such as "Die, Mommie, Die!" and "Psycho Beach Party," bringing also his prowess as a playwright to the stage with "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom" and "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife."

The Rage Monthly chatted with Busch regarding all-things sisterly and oh-so divine.

What is it you love about movies featuring nuns?

I grew up with no religious background at all. My only exposure to religion was through watching movies with religious themes on television. I was enraptured with the story of Christ; just mad for Jesus, and I was fascinated by any movie about nuns. They were either ethereal, beautiful nuns like Ingrid Bergman in "The Bells of St. Mary's," or wacky, wise-cracking nuns like in "The Trouble With Angels."

And what was it that inspired you to take that love and turn it into your play "The Divine Sister?"

Every few years I get this intense desire to put on a play on a shoestring; that shoestring keeps getting more and more pricey. A few years ago, once again I had that urge.

I thought about what role would I love to play, and I immediately thought of being a very strict but loving and terribly grand Mother Superior. The wimple and robes are very flattering to an "older actress."

The Trouble With Angels is one of my favorite movies. Were you channeling Rosalind Russell when you were in the role?

Absolutely! The entire play can be viewed as a tribute to Rosalind Russell's entire career.

Before she entered the convent, Mother Superior was a tough newspaper reporter modeled after Roz Russell in the movie "His Girl Friday." I even threw in homage to "Auntie Mame," when Mother Superior says to a young postulant, "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers haven't even
said grace."

How important was it for you to feature the secret lives of the nuns and other religious types?

The play really isn't a diatribe against religious dogma. I make some satiric points about the hypocrisy of certain extreme religious notions, but basically the play is an exploration of Hollywood's history of religious films.

You delve into the days of Hollywood past with "Psycho Beach Party" and "Die, Mommie, Die!" Is there any genre that you have not explored that you would like to?

I get a different idea every week! I'd love to do a murder mystery set in the ballet world. Or maybe a homage to Americana; I could be a feisty young Irish housemaid who goes west and is one of the settlers in the wilderness. There are also historical characters I'd love to play, like Marie Antoinette or Cleopatra.

What is up next for you?

I've written a new play in which I play an out-of-work female impersonator who rents a room in an old lady's townhouse in Greenwich Village. When she suddenly dies in her sleep, he decides to pose as her to sell her townhouse. Madcap hilarity ensues.

This past year I've been trouping about the country doing my cabaret act, which has really been fun. I play different characters and sing songs and try to be honest and funny. So you never know, I may end up visiting a town near you.

"The Divine Sister" populates the stage at Diversionary Theatre Thursday, May 23 through Sunday, June 30. For tickets and more information call 619.220.0097 or go to diversionary.org

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