Jane C. Boyle on Playing Reverend Mother in ‘Nunsense’ at Toby’s Baltimore

The irreverent comedy Nunsense is really serving up the laughs over at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore! This sensational summer comedy is bringing a quintet of seriously silly nuns to the stage for shenanigans the likes of which will have you laughing until you cry! And who better to give us the inside look at all these habit forming unconventional humors than Reverend Mother herself, Baltimore-area actor Jane C. Boyle.

Jane Boyle.
Jane C. Boyle.

Amanda: What’s it like being back in the habit, since you’ve played the Reverend Mother in productions of Nunsense before?

Jane: I love it! I love this role. I love this show. I love these sisters. Can I say love enough? It’s really just great. It helps to go into it with a good attitude because we all know we’re kind of up against “the man” because we weren’t really sure if it was going to sell or not. And we were a little nervous about how well this sort of show would work with smaller houses, but the people are really getting it, and it’s great, just great!

So what’s different this time around, and is it more or less difficult to reprise a role that you’ve done before?

Hmm, a little of both, I think, because you kind of start out with “Oh, I did it like this last time,” or “I did it like that last time.” But it’s a little different because even though it’s the same words and the same songs the blocking is different. When we staged this show about three years ago at Toby’s of Columbia (three years…two and a half…no one seems to be able to pin it down exactly) it was in the round, and here at Baltimore we’re on a traditional proscenium stage. So it’s definitely a little different.

Twenty years ago when I was way too young to be doing this role— but when you’re fat you can get away with playing older— this was back when I used to smoke, I was doing this show at another theatre, the old Towson Dinner Theatre, and I would sneak out at intermission to grab a smoke. And it was always funny because what’s not funny about getting caught as Reverend Mother in my habit out back smoking? Oh the old nun stories I could tell you from those days, they were good times, and good memories.

But it’s great to renew the relationships I had with Jesaira Glover, who played Sister Mary Hubert last time and Heather Beck, who is also reprising her role as Sister Robert Anne. I’ve also worked with and knew both Celia Blitzer and Beth Rayca, the other two nuns in our show, and with the five of us these characters can really just go any way. We all just have so much fun with it, even though we’ve all done Nunsense before, not necessarily together, so I think that makes it easier in a way.

You were in rehearsal for this and Toby’s upcoming production of Les Miserables at the same time, how were you keeping it all straight?

Oh my god! LOTS OF NAPS! You know, there would be many times where it’s a choice— eat or sleep. Sleep usually won. The people I work with are just so supporting and understanding so that just made life so much easier. And we didn’t really have a lot of nun rehearsals because of everyone’s schedules being so crazy. So when we did have them they were very intense. Long days of full rehearsals and they were very tiring. But very worth it.

Do you have any Catholic background or upbringing that you’re bringing into the performance?

Actually, it’s funny because I have two cousins who are former nuns and one cousin who is currently still a priest! But I did have 12 years of Catholic School Education. I had to go to church every Sunday when I was little. Had to. It was an obligation. My mom was a Baptist who converted when she married my dad, and it’s funny because my father was raised in a traditional Catholic household, but it was my mother who was more strict with all the Catholic influence, I think she was trying to be really good at it since she had just converted. And I think it does help to have a little bit of a background going into this show, the jokes are funnier that way.

You get to ad-lib and improv your performance during the big Act I finale, what’s that like?

It is not my forte. But, um, I have a little bit of a kind of catalog in my head. If this happens, I’ll do this and if that happens I’ll do that. With age I’ve gotten a lot calmer about it.

The big improv scene is the “Rush Scene” (where the Reverend Mother takes a few hits off the bottled stimulant) and I think that scene just works better with framework. Director Mark Minnick and I worked with a basic framework to see what works, and I put stuff in and pull stuff out all the time. I’ll make up special stuff if there are special people in the audience. We had some friends in the audience a few nights back and I was trying to throw in little funny things here and there that they would recognize. It’s really fun to get to make up stuff for that moment.

It’s a little terrifying but it’s like once I get started I’m OK. There are a lot of moments where I have to remind myself to just slow down and enjoy it and let the audience just feel it and enjoy it with me. But most of the time everything is all good and everyone follows along with me. I have my little list of where to go and what to go to next but I get lost because you never know what’s going to happen! I’ll hear someone in the audience laugh and I’ll just get lost, or I’ll start laughing and I’ll be like “What do I do now?” But it’s OK because it just goes with what’s happening to the character in that scene.

I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with new puns, and I’m like— oooh! Because I’ll have had an idea for that scene. And I keep a list. It doesn’t go on paper it goes into my phone so when I do wake up in the middle of the night and then sit there trying to type it in then I’m definitely awake for the next little while. I’ll try to figure certain things out like how do I get down the steps and then back up; it’s just a lot of fun to come up with all these little things.

And my favorite part of that whole scene is rolling on the floor. I love rolling on the floor, haha! It’s just so freeing, it’s great! And it’s so much fun!

(l to r) Sister Mary Amnesia (Elizabeth Rayca) Sister Mary Leo (Celia Blitzer) Reverend Mother (Jane C. Boyle) Sister Mary Hubert (Jesaira Glover) and Sister Robert Anne (Heather Beck). Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.
(l to r) Sister Mary Amnesia (Elizabeth Rayca) Sister Mary Leo (Celia Blitzer) Reverend Mother (Jane C. Boyle) Sister Mary Hubert (Jesaira Glover) and Sister Robert Anne (Heather Beck). Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

You get to come up with a lot of nun puns and nun jokes for that scene and others in the show, so how’s that been going?

One night I just couldn’t sleep so I started doing nun puns with Julie Andrews in mind, and then later came ‘hunting habits.’ I just think up things and if it makes me laugh out loud then I’m like “Screw it, I’m doing it.” And into the mix it goes. Really it’s just a lot of fun. I love that I came up with “Super-Catholic-Francis-Xavier-Ex-Communication.” Which totally gets said like Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. That came to me when I was in a “Julie Andrews” mode that night, and I didn’t’ sleep at all. And instead of writing it down like a smart person I was like “let me get up, turn my phone on, and type it in there because that’ll keep me awake.”

I have another really great joke that you hear at the top of the show that I came up with but I don’t want to give it away because I think it’s really funny. So you’ll just have to come to the show to hear it. You know, I love the secretly dirty nun jokes <*signature Eartha Kitt purr*> Like the one that gets mentioned in “A Difficult Transition.” The line goes, “…It’s a difficult transition for the missioner’s position was up till now the only one we knew, it’s sad but true…” and that line just cracks me up every time!

What’s the most fun thing about this show for you?

Oh <big sigh> I don’t know, honestly. I think just the relationship with all the girls. We just have a great time together. I don’t’ want to sound sappy, but we really just work together and we’re all so connected. The older I get the more I really enjoy a successful evening of theatre, and we just really have that here in this cast with this show.

Where are you drawing your inspiration for Reverend Mother?

Sometimes I feel like I’m channeling my father. He was very Irish, and from time to time he would put on a little accent. The family has been to Ireland several times, and when you’re in Ireland you can’t help but sort of start talking with the accent because it’s what you hear. They think you’re trying to make fun of them but you’re really not, sometimes you don’t even realize you’re doing it. Of course, they speak a lot faster and you can’t understand what they say all the time. So from time to time I put on my little accent, just a little. I have to be careful with the accent, though. Making sure that I speak slowly enough so that everyone can still understand me but still bring a little flavor to the character. And then I bring my mother out – the whole looking down my nose over my glasses, that’s something she used to do a lot. I don’t think I’m channeling any of the more famous nuns from movies and other musicals, if I am I don’t know I’m doing it.

Are you ever worried that you’ll offend the audience?

No, I don’t usually worry about that. I would hope that if someone is coming to see something called “Nunsense” that they would know it’s supposed to be humorous. But that’s the chance you take with theatre – either the audience gets it or they don’t. Some audiences are louder or more vocal than others but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t enjoying it. I do worry about the gap. In Columbia when we did the show, we were right in the audience’s faces because of the way the theatre is set up. Here at Baltimore there is that gap between where the stage ends and the audience begins, it’s a space, the aisle, and I worry that sometimes the audience is missing a little something because of it, but I think that the way we have the lights set up and the fact that we spend a good bit of time out in the audience makes up for it.

Do you have a favorite moment? Or song?

Oooh, <pout> Can I think about that? Alright. I don’t know. There are just too many. Ok, I think I’ve got one. My favorite moment is “Free Willy” which happens during the ‘Rush’ scene, and if you want to know more about it— come see the show. But it’s that, and then I say “Hoo-bert” instead of “Hubert,” when calling out to sister Hubert because I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. I love trying to make Jesaira laugh. And Heather really makes me laugh, like her random Spanish when she comes out in that Carmen Miranda headgear. And then when she’s diving up and flipping onto the stage. She’s crazy. She loves it. I love it.

As for songs I really really like “We’ve Got To Clean Out The Freezer.” It’s a song about nuns having to clean the other dead nun’s bodies out of the freezer, so what’s not to like? Oh! And also, “Just A Coupl’a Sisters.” Doing that song with Jesaira is so much fun. I have too many favorite moments. The whole show is my favorite moment. Although I really do love that joke at the top of the show, the really funny mystery joke that I’m not going to tell you about. So that you’ll come see the show and can see how funny it is for yourself.

Any she-nun-igans happening off-stage?

We goof around a lot on stage. We don’t have time to fool around because we’re doing so much. We leave all of the crazy on the stage. If you have time to pee, that’s good, but I usually don’t have to because I sweat it all out.

Are you doing anything pre-show rituals to get yourself into that habitual nun-headspace?

Well, for this production I make a grand entrance so I have to walk all the way around the hallway behind the theatre to get there. And I do my tongue exercises on the way for good diction, I swing my rosary, do my breathing. And then I do a pat down on my body to make sure that I have everything I’m supposed to.

If you could be one of the other nuns, which one would it be?

Oh, <super sigh> I wish I could sing like Sister Hubert! I do love to just sit there and listen to Jesaira sing, her voice is amazing. But actually I’m very happy as Reverend Mother because I get to put my Irish on. Oh and fun fact— <*shimmer hands*>I have four real life sisters and on-stage sisters! But let me be clear— I am NOT the Reverend Mother among my real sisters. I’m the youngest, so I would be sister Leo among the real life sisters. One of my real sisters actually gave me a little weefolk nun figurine with her little green dancing shoes. It’s cute!

Jane C. Boyle as Reverend Mother2
Jane C. Boyle as Reverend Mother. Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

You guys had to do some modernizing/updating to some of the outdated references in the script, what was that like?

Actually, there isn’t a whole lot that we really did update. We changed the Betamax player that Reverend Mother spends the fundraiser money on to a Blue Ray Player, but most of the modern reference come during the “Cooking with the BVM (for those of you that don’t know, that’s Blessed Virgin Mary)” segment. The Honey Booboo turkey recipe is NOT in the original script. There is a turkey stuffing recipe in the script that we used three years ago in Columbia; it’s turkey stuffing a la Marsha Lewis. But who the hell is Marsha Lewis? So we changed it, and we would shift it around trying to figure out who was popular and what worked. Our Director, Mark, loves Honey Booboo and Celia said, “Let’s do Honey Booboo!” So Honey Booboo is now in our BVM cookbook.

A lot of it just sort of works naturally. Even the Ed McMahon reference is still topical, if a bit funnier now because he’s dead. There really is a whole book of ‘recipes’ you can get for this segment, the book we happen to have does have actual recipes in it. And of course moments during the BVM are when Jesaira is trying to make me laugh the most, and she usually succeeds because that scene is when I find myself laughing the most.

So that’s the truth, the whole truth and nun but the truth. You can see Jane Boyle playing as the good Reverend Mother, Sister Mary Regina, through July 14, 2013 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore— 5625 O’Donnell Street in Baltimore, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 649-1660 or purchase them online.

You can read my review of Nunsense here.

Check out the interview with Nunsense Director Mark Minnick

Previous article‘Baby Universe’ at The Studio Theatre by Justin Schneider
Next article‘Ring of Fire: The Johnny Cash Musical Show’ at Riverside Center Dinner Theater by Flora Scott
Amanda Gunther
Amanda Gunther is an actress, a writer, and loves the theatre. She graduated with her BFA in acting from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and spent two years studying abroad in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales. Her time spent in Sydney taught her a lot about the performing arts, from Improv Comedy to performance art drama done completely in the dark. She loves theatre of all kinds, but loves musicals the best. When she’s not working, if she’s not at the theatre, you can usually find her reading a book, working on ideas for her own books, or just relaxing and taking in the sights and sounds of her Baltimore hometown. She loves to travel, exploring new venues for performing arts and other leisurely activities. Writing for the DCMetroTheaterArts as a Senior Writer gives her a chance to pursue her passion of the theatre and will broaden her horizons in the writer’s field.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here