Review: The Divine Sister

They don’t make ’em like this anymore, and there’s only one Charles Busch.

In the most recent play Busch wrote before The Divine Sister, called The Third Story, he experimented not only with the serious theme of McCarthyism, but also with highly sophisticated plotting and complex shifts in tone. In contrast, The Divine Sister isn’t serious at all, it’s pure, hilarious pop culture parody.

Happily, Busch hasn’t left the sophistication of The Third Story completely behind, he’s simply using it for much more lighthearted fun. If The Third Story seemed to be a harbinger of a transitional period for Busch, The Divine Sister finds him regrouping and applying all he’s learned to what he does best. What a great gift for us!

The Divine Sister pays screamingly funny homage to nearly every Hollywood film involving nuns, up to and including Doubt. St. Veronica’s unconquerable Mother Superior (Busch writing another fine high drag role for himself) will do anything to build a new school for her Pittsburgh convent. She faces a stunning array of complications including temptation from an old beau, the schemes of a harshly Sapphic visiting German nun, the needs of a queerling schoolboy, and unexpected trouble from all branches of her secular family tree.

He is among our very best comic writers, elevating pastiche into high art, much like his idol (and mine) Charles Ludlam. The Divine Sister finds Busch at the top of his form, and director Carl Andress, as always, gives it a corker of a production. It’s Busch’s campiest, funniest and most entertaining play in years, deliciously queen-sized, quintessential Busch.

Busch knows intimately how to write for himself and his Mother Superior is another in a long line of deliciously complex hard-boiled dames. Busch sincerely and sentimentally loves artifice and invests every moment he has on-stage with substantial style.

So does Julie Halston as the Mother’s pugilistic wiseacre sidekick Sister Acacius. This is the first time in many years that Halston, who was in Busch’s very earliest plays, is reunited with Charles for what will assuredly be a long run. She’s every bit the comic powerhouse that he is, and watching the two of them go is the purest pleasure. As is just about every moment of this oh-so-gay not-to-be-missed laugh riot.

Go get your tickets here. DO IT NOW!

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