The Moline Dispatch - 7/06/97

-Sean Leary

'Amnesia's' is a memorable show

In the past decade, creator Dan Goggin has entertained multiple congregations of fans with his wickedly funny "Nunsense" productions. And there's no reason to think that "Sister Amnesia's Nunsense Jamboree," the third installment now on stage at Circa '21, will disappoint the faithful. It's full of soft-hearted amusement, and seems guaranteed to bring multiple smiles to the face of folks of every stripe.

One of the main building blocks of comedy is incongruity, which is in abundance in the "Nunsenses." After all, how often do you see a nun in full habit pulling off some of the stunts that occur in these shows? Or a sister wearing a bright red bandanna, or crimson cowboy adorned with a fat, blue sequined star?

But the "Nunsenses" go beyond surface visual humor. Goggin throws in slapstick, zippy wordplay and goofy musical numbers -- demonstrating an almost child-like desire to make you laugh any way he can. On top of that, he genuinely seems to like his characters, and rather than making fun of them, he points at their foibles with a soft touch that belies that affections, and transfers it to the viewer.

Add all those items up, and blend in the light, amiable tone of the productions, and they're almost impossible to dislike.

"Sister Amnesia's..." follows the same righteous path as its creative brethren. It picks up where the second "Nunsense" left off -- with Sister Amnesia regaining her memory (she won the lottery), her name (Sister Mary Paul) and her goal in life (to be a country singer). To that end, the Reverend Mother secured a recording contract for her and Sister Mary Paul is hitting the road with her merry band of fellow faithful to support her burgeoning hit CD, "I Could've Gone To Nashville." This musical is the show within that show -- including the off-stage antics.

And that show, boasting more than a few funny numbers, seems more than a little influenced by "Hee Haw."

Throw aside the country theme and western-tinged music and we're still left with not only the ensemble flavor of "Hee Haw," but also two direct allusions to it. One is the barn facade set, featuring doors and windows that open to reveal wise cracking women of the cloth. The other is a salute to Minnie Pearl that pounds home the obvious "Hee Haw" variety show seasoning. All that's needed to make it more obvious is a Roy Clark walk-on.

Not that this is a bad thing, in this instance. The jokes ripped off in "Sister Amnesia's..." are of the same harmless, corny caliber of "Hee Haw's" but are generally more sharp and less grimace inducing.

Take, for example, the number "Play A Country Enut," a buoyant frill based on smirky wordplay (enut is tune backwards), which is attacked with such genuine relish it transcends its silly roots. Likewise, the phony commercials (for such sponsors as "The Manger Inn" and "Ascension Air") each have at least a few clever twists to them.

And there are also heartfelt moments in the show as well. Sister Amnesia's "Every Time You Smiled At Me" throws off the clown mask to reveal a sweet heart.

Sister Amnesia's didn't crack me up as much as the original Nunsense did, but then again, that musical had the advantage of pure originality on its side where a sequel does not. But this third trip into the convent still holds up its end of the bargain, providing good, clean fun and solid entertainment.