Thirteen is not an unlucky number for actress Nonie Breen. She has been playing the good Sister in seven different shows written by Maripat Donovan. When she originally auditioned for the part, Maripat told her she had "the part for life."
Now, at 63, Breen admits to having "the energy of a hummingbird. I have to stay busy." At the moment, she reluctantly says she may be a bit exhausted, having just finished five shows in Las Vegas, flying to Los Angeles and immediately coming to Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven. She loves it here and it's like a reunion, she's back again and again.
Confiding that she's earned her wrinkles, she confesses that playing a nun, in this case in "Sister's Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi's Gold," is an "odd job." But it is one she loves, taking it on until Sunday, December 15 in this interactive work penned by Donovan with Jane Morris and Marc Silvia. She grew up in a Jewish neighborhood, as part of a close Irish-Catholic family, with aunts who were nuns and cousins who were priests, but as a youth she was always in trouble. Her mother finds it hysterical that she is playing a nun, but her new husband (she got married in October to a fellow actor) is proud and supportive and is coming to Long Wharf to see the show.
With a background as a comedic actress, Nonie Breen loves the East Coast and the challenge of doing a one-woman show. It's not that different from the Second City sketches she used to perform. "Playing Sister taps into all my strengths and helps me grow. I need to research current events and keep the show fresh. I need to bring a lot to the party."
The party in question is the audience participation. People come "giddy and excited." Maybe they hope Sister won't notice them or call on them, but it's fun to see someone else in trouble. Sister requires modest dress, no cell phones, attentiveness and no tardiness. Sister feels that there is so much tragedy in the world today that it's good to enjoy silly, clean fun and laugh. She confesses how joyful it is to see someone come in serious, with arms crossed, warm up and relax and enjoy the show.
The theme this time around is to discover what happened to the Magi's gold and Sister readily admits that "I never know exactly what will happen." The play is half improvisation and half scripted, but every audience is different and she can never lose control.
Breen finds the show "a joy. I like people and I like drawing them in. It's a challenge standing on my feet for two hours and it's hard on my voice. The hotels and plane flights can be tiring." What gives her special pleasure is taking up a collection after the performance for local nuns, in this case, the Sacred Heart nuns of Hamden. She feels she has raised $1,000,000 over the years for the different groups of these women who are "unsung heroes," doing good works as nurses and teachers. She has great respect for the quiet way they do their important tasks.
For tickets ($35.00),call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharf.org. Performances are at Stage II Tuesday at 8 p.m., Wednesday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. The last performance is Sunday, December 15 at 3 p.m.
Don't be surprised if the good Sister invites you to be part of the Living Nativity and you find yourself with a lamp shade or a toilet seat cover on your head.