By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — It’s simple, really.
The Sisters of Perpetual Sewing want to keep their convent open. (Even if it takes a little illicit wine production.) Sisters Augusta and Philamena want to keep this little side project from being found out by their mother superior.
Reporter Sally Andrews wants the story. Reporter Paul Billings wants Sally.
And the mother superior ... well, you’ll just have to watch the play.
The farce “Drinking Habits” will make its Western New York premiere tonight courtesy of the Towne Players of Kenmore-Tonawanda and runs through Feb. 24. Cynthia Bell, who is directing the play assisted by her husband, Michael Bell, said she first encountered “Drinking Habits” several years ago, when the Bells attended a dinner theater in Erie, Pa., with friends.
“They are very practicing Catholics, but we all laughed,” she said. “When I saw they enjoyed the show and found nothing sensitive about it ... Mike said, ‘We should take this back to the Towne Players.’ “
They did. Next thing the Bells knew, they were tapped to direct the show.
“I enjoy comedy and this show was just so funny,” Cynthia Bell said. “There’s comedy in it, some romance. When you leave, you just feel so good. And I think that’s a good way to have your audience leave the theater.”
The plot revolves around the convent, set in a “pastoral” part of Western New York in 1959. The sisters have been producing wine instead of grape juice as a way to keep their little convent afloat, without the knowledge of their mother superior who is worried about spies sent from Rome to shut the convent down. Add two reporters in search of a story, a slightly clueless groundskeeper, and a mysterious new nun — and it’s a recipe for confusion.
“There are mistaken identities. Of course, it’s a farce,” Bell said. “But you see a little bit of character changes, even in a comedy. In the hands of our actors and actresses, it goes along very well. There are really no starring roles, they all contribute. “
Bell has been with the Towne Players since 2005, but this is her first time directing a show.
“With this being our first time (directing), we’ve both been open to suggestions,” she said. “Our cast has very good suggestions and I trust their instincts.”
Joshua Dimmig-Russell of Kenmore, who plays reporter Paul Billings, said his character isn’t as interested in uncovering wrongdoing at the convent as he is with “going to the ends of the earth” to earn Sally’s love — no matter how ridiculous things get.
“It’s a great farce. It’s essentially a collection of misinterpretations, misidentification and missed connections,” he said. “It’s a really great combination for any age, really. Some jokes might be a little involved, but there’s still some slapstick humor for the kids. It’s a really fun show.”
Despite the ridiculous nature of much of the goings-on at the fictional Western New York convent, Dimmig-Russell said it contains some basic truths about life.
“I think the thing that makes it so great is that it plays to humanity, to how life really is,” he said. “I know it sounds wildly crazy ... but you could somehow see it happening.
“It’s so human ... and that’s what really makes it funny.”IF YOU GO • WHAT: "Drinking Habits" by the Towne Players of Kenmore-Tonawanda • WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday and Feb. 22 and 23; 2 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 24 • WHERE: Sheridan-Parkside Community Theatre, 169 Sheridan-Parkside Drive, Town of Tonawanda • TICKETS: $10 general admission, $8 for seniors and students, $7 presale. Visit www.towne players.com.