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HomeArtStage West’s "Drinking Habits:" A Sell-Out Success

Stage West’s “Drinking Habits:” A Sell-Out Success

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What do four nuns, a priest, two reporters who impersonate a nun and a priest, a Cardinal and a somewhat clueless gardener who also dresses up as a priest have in common? They all appeared in Stage West’s latest production, “Drinking Habits.” If that sounds confusing, it is, but it’s a lot of fun too.

The premise of “Drinking Habits” is that two nuns, Sister Philomena (played by Maggie Phillippi) and Sister Augusta (portrayed by Lynda Dilts-Benson), along with their Mother Superior (Susan Grey) are the only inhabitants of their convent. They’re called the Sisters of Perpetual Sewing because their task is to sew and repair the garments for the priests and other members of the clergy. They’re afraid that the Pope will shut the convent down because there are so few members, so they’ve been hiding that fact from the “higher-ups.”

To add to the subterfuge, Sisters Philomena and Augusta, aided by George, the gardener (played by Keith Surplus), have been secretly making wine instead of grape juice without Mother Superior’s knowledge and selling it to the local population to keep the convent afloat financially.

Now add to the mix a young novitiate (a sort of nun in-training), played by Mia Knapp, masquerading as a full-fledged nun who comes to stay at the convent. Father Chenille (played by Mathew Root) is a regular visitor and you wonder how he hasn’t discovered the nuns’ deception, but that’s part of the play’s humor.

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Stir in two reporters, Paul and Sally (Allexis Connery and Aliya Weaver), who disguise themselves as a priest and a nun so they can infiltrate the convent and prove that the Sisters are the ones making the wine that’s so popular with the townspeople. Allexis becomes Father Paul and Aliya masquerades as Sister Mary Mary.

The plot thickens when the three nuns suspect that there’s a spy sent by the Pope to shut them down. They suspect Sister Mary Catherine, the novitiate, so Mother Superior asks the other two nuns to keep an eye on her.

Aliya Weaver, as Sally, the reporter, has some of the funniest lines. For example, when Father Chenille asks her what order she’s from, she hesitates and then says, “The Alphabetical Order. Our job is filing.” As sister Mary Mary, she has to disguise the fact that she can’t sew and can’t figure out how to make the Sign of the Cross- something every Catholic should know- especially a nun.

Another hilarious part of the play occurs when the entire convent has to observe silence for a certain period of time. You watch the actors pantomime, trying to communicate with each other and you can’t help but laugh.

All the actors are excellent in their roles, but Maggie Phillipi, playing the part of Sister Philomena and Mia Knapp as Sister Mary Catherine performed some of the most hilarious antics. Their faces are so expressive as they flutter nervously around the stage. Newcomer to Stage West, Allexis Connery, is a hoot as he goes from being a reporter to being a priest, a nun and then finally to masquerading as a Cardinal.

And I have to mention Sister Augusta’s red tennis shoes. It takes me back to my days in Catholic school when the nuns would don tennis shoes and let their hair down (figuratively) to go outside and play softball or volleyball with us.

Maggie Phillippi, who plays Sister Philomena, got her start in acting when her high school guidance counselor made her choose between debate class and theatre as a way of overcoming her shyness. She chose theatre. One of the rewards of acting for Maggie is “coming together as a group to bring a story to life in ways that impact audiences.”

Her role in this play has become one of her favorites because of the physical comedy. Another favorite was playing the part of Benjamin Bunny in the “Tale of Peter Rabbit” because of the children’s reactions.

Susan Grey, who portrays Mother Superior got her start in theatre at a young age. “One of my earliest memories is of watching my dad play Tevye in ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ I was too young for a part, but I ‘helped’ the stage crew.”

Susan is looking forward to being in a musical in the near future. Her dream role is Elphaba in “Wicked.”

Allexis Connery, who portrayed Paul and all his alter-egos, good-naturedly talks of his first theatrical experience in third grade, describing it facetiously as a “stellar” performance in which he tripped and fell flat on his face. However, that did not dampen his desire to pursue acting. “The most difficult part about playing Paul and all his disguises is being able to move around the stage as much as I need while progressively wearing more and more layers of costumes.”

One role that’s on Allexis’ bucket list is that of Seymour Krelborn in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
“He’s a character I’ve wanted to play since I was six years old, seeing the show for the first time. Seymour resonates with me as a plant lover, romantic, and a klutz.”

Michelle Root, with her many years of directing all types of plays, handled the job deftly. She was able to direct a farce that had a large amount of physicality without the show becoming slapstick. Michelle and her stage crew were able to pull off a great show despite a few last-minute technical glitches.

Michelle remarked, “Watching from the back of the house behind a sold-out crowd is a ‘goose bump’ moment! Watching this cast give their characters personality and adding their own touches to each one has been a highlight.”

She hopes to direct the sequel to “Drinking Habits” in the near future. That will be a show you won’t want to miss.

And speaking of “must-see” theatre, Stage West’s next production will be “Death Takes a Holiday.” The story has had several reincarnations. One of the latest was the 1998 film “Meet Joe Black” starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins. The story is so familiar that the play will probably be a sell-out, so get your tickets early. The play runs March 15, 16, 17 and March 22, 23, 24.

For tickets, call the box office at 352- 683-5113 or go online to www.stagewestflorida.com.

(L-R) Mathew Root, Susan Grey [Photo by Sarah Nachin]
(L-R) Mathew Root, Susan Grey [Photo by Sarah Nachin]

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