Force of Habit
While playwright Dan Goggin's Nunsense nuns may have taken vows of celibacy, their creator has been birthing hilarious stories about the Little Sisters of Hoboken in biblical proportions. Goggin's 1985 Nunsense mother ship, which copped a quartet of awards, begat 1992's Nunsense II: The Second Coming, which, in turn, begat 1995's western hoedown Nunsense III: The Jamboree, which begat 1998's Nuncrackers: The Christmas Musical, which begat the new -- and resolutely ecumenical -- Meshuggah-Nuns! Not forgetting Nunsense A-Men!, Goggin's all-male drag spin on the original, plus three TV movies, four cast recordings, and a line of greeting cards. It can't be long before the sisters wind up singing and praying with the Big Green Lizard in Godzilla-Nuns!
Almost seventeen years after the debut of the five spotlight-loving sisters, the franchise continues to thrive. "As times have gotten tougher, people just really need an outlet to laugh and have a good time, without any serious overtones," Goggin offers. "People have literally made the characters into stars."
Goggin based those characters -- Mother Superior Mary Cardelia, plus sisters Robert Anne, Mary Hubert, Mary Leo, and Mary Amnesia -- on Dominican nuns who taught him in his native Michigan. A countertenor, Goggin sang in the cast of Luther (a musical about theologian Martin Luther), then appeared from 1965 to 1971 as one-half of the Saxons, a comedy-folk duo that spoofed Old English music, after which he contributed to his first show, 1972's Hark!
Finally, divine intervention struck. "As a joke," Goggin recalls, "a Dominican brother friend of mine sent me a mannequin dressed as a Dominican nun." Goggin used the dummy as a model for a greeting-card line. When that proved successful, "I thought maybe we could bring the character to life."
Sister Mary Cardelia hit the stage in 1983 in a Nunsense cabaret. Scheduled to run for 4 weekends, it played for 38 weeks. "After that, it just snowballed," Goggin remembers. "I fleshed the whole thing out, we moved it off-Broadway, and the next thing you know we had a company in Philadelphia, then one in Toronto, then Amsterdam."
Now comes Meshuggah-Nuns!, born three years ago when a colleague suggested Goggin plop the sisters on a cruise. A year later Goggin staged Nunsense A-Men! at Hollywood Playhouse. "The producer said to me, 'If you really want to sell down here, you've got to have a Jewish character in the show.' I thought, Wait a minute: What if the show on the ship were Fiddler on the Roof, and the entertainers got seasick, except for the Tevye, and the sisters have to come up with an original revue?" A-ha! It premiered in September in Minneapolis.
Goggin makes no apologies for repeatedly returning to his commercial workhorse. "The greatest joy that these shows give me is hearing people laugh," he notes. "It's just so much fun. I feel like I'm writing for The Carol Burnett Show, and every year we get renewed."
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