Five nuns from Hudson County are seizing the Church of the Good Shepherd in Fort Lee for two upcoming weekends. They are staging a musical fundraiser in order to bury the four frozen nuns remaining out of the 52 that Sister Julia, Child of God, killed with a bad pot of vichyssoise.
The nuns are all men, by the way.
It’s all in fun, in the hit play “Nunsense A-Men,” put on by the Park Players, a troupe based in Union City.
It’s based on the 1985 musical comedy “Nunsense,” a play about the “Little Sisters of Hoboken” – but the “A-Men” version has men in several major roles.
An eclectic mix
“We’ve been based here for about four years now, in this church,” said John Fiorenza, who was raised in North Bergen. He directed the show and plays Sister Robert Anne.
“It’s our church,” he said. “We’ve been coming to this church about six years now. In fact, Joe [Conklin, troupe founder] and I got married in this church. And we started doing shows here about four years ago. I’m on the vestry and they give us free hand, let us do whatever we want here—move the altar, fix up the stage, whatever.”
“We started out at the Park Theater in Union City,” said Conklin, a native of that town. “And we then became a traveling troupe. We’ve gone to many different venues. We’ve been at dinner theater, at Antonia’s by the Park [in North Bergen], at La Fortuna, Don Quixote [both in Fairview]. And now our basic home is here in Fort Lee at the Church of the Good Shepherd.”
“We want the audience to enjoy and we want these kids to work their craft and have fun.” –John Fiorenza
“We used to do three but now we do two. Because we’re old,” he joked.
He plays Mother Superior in the show.
Among the newer faces in the cast is Rick Londono, playing Sister Leo. This is his second performance with the Park Players, after joining the group last year for “The Wizard of Oz.”
“It’s fun,” said the Union City resident, some of whose friends were students of Conklin’s. “I love it. I love doing shows. I want to be an actor. That’s pretty much what I’m doing. Building up my resume so that I can be a staaaar.”
Londono assists with the choreography, filling in when the group’s regular choreographer isn’t available.
Also in the cast is Manuel Ribes from North Bergen, as Sister Mary Amnesia. Like Londono he first joined in November of 2013 for the previous show, referred by a mutual friend and a teacher at North Bergen High School, Melissa Wells.
“This is my second-to-last musical,” said Ribes. “In September I’ll be going to pharmacy grad school so this is the end of my road with musical theater. It was fun and it’s a good time here so I really enjoyed it.”
Rounding out the main cast of five (there are also a few cameo roles for the female members of the troupe) is Craig Clark from Cliffside Park. “I met these guys at church,” he said. “We all three come to this church. I used to do some acting in Austin, Texas. I went to school there in theater arts. This is my third [show with the Park Players]. I’m actually an English teacher in Manhattan. So this is pure hobby. Just encouraging the young people.”
“That’s what we want,” added Fiorenza. “We want the audience to enjoy and we want these kids to work their craft and have fun.”
“It’s fun working with people who are older,” said Ribes.
“And have more experience,” added Londono.
“But they help us too,” said Conklin. “Because they’re young and they’re fresh and they have other ideas. So it’s good to integrate both age groups. Because sometimes they’ll come up with something and we’ll go, hey, that’s a good idea. We learn from each other.”
Bringing it home
Members of the Park Players handle all aspects of the production. When not acting onstage, they build sets or handle the sound or deal with the myriad of other issues involved in a full scale performance.
“Our stage manager’s name is Sarah,” said Fiorenza. “It’s the first time she’s stage managing. She’s new to the group so it was a learning experience for her. But then again we have her expertise because she helps us with our website. So everybody kind of helps one another. It blends together. Everyone’s got their own specialty.”
Previous performances by the troupe included “The Wizard of Oz,” “Oliver,” and “Godspell.” In contrast to the intimate nature of the current show, they’ve put on plays with over 100 cast members, including students at Woodrow Wilson School.
Plus they do “location” performances.
“We did ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’” said Fiorenza. “I’m also a florist, so we did it in my flower shop. We did ‘Steel Magnolias’ in a salon.”
“Nunsense” is set in Hoboken. It was written by Dan Goggins, who initiated the concept as a line of greeting cards, expanding it into an off-Broadway cabaret that ran for 10 years and spawned a series of sequels and spin-offs. It has been translated into 21 languages, with over 5,000 productions worldwide.
Performances will take place at the Church of the Good Shepherd at 1576 Palisade Ave. in Fort Lee on April 25 and 27, and May 2 and 4 at 8 p.m. There will also be a Saturday performance at 2 p.m. on May 3.
Tickets are $15 each, $13 for students/seniors, or $11 in groups of ten, and are available by calling (201) 941-6030 or at www.brownpapertickets.com.
For more information, visit www.parkplayers.com.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.