Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Drinking Habits 2: Caught in the Act
Don Bluth Front Row Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Jesus Christ Superstar and An American in Paris

Adam Petzold, Lauren Tye, and Priscilla Bertling
Photo by Stephanie Cartwright
Tom Smith is a proficient playwright with dozens of plays to his credit, and Don Bluth Front Row Theatre, which presented Smith's farce Drinking Habits last year at this time, is now presenting his follow-up to that comedy, Drinking Habits 2: Caught in the Act. While there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of films that have had one or more sequels, there are few plays or musicals that have spawned a follow-up so I'm happy to report that Smith's comedic sequel is fun and on par with Drinking Habits. It's also nice to see what became of his lovable characters after the shenanigans they got up to in the first play. A cast who do well with the comic requirements of the piece, many of whom were in the production of the first play last season and have returned to play the same characters in the sequel, and solid direction make for zany and entertaining fun.

The sequel takes place less than a year after the end of the first play. If you didn't see that production, Smith does a fairly good job in the opening minutes of this play of catching the audience up on the events that happened before, and there is also a short synopsis in the program. The plot takes place once again at the Convent of the Sisters of Perpetual Sewing. While Sisters Augusta and Philomena earned enough money to save the Convent from closing in the previous play by selling wine they secretly made behind Mother Superior's back, they also agreed to stop making the wine, so the wacky duo is finding it rather "dull" around the convent.

When the nuns gets wind that the orphanage where the convent's groundskeeper George and his wife Kate met when they were children needs $5,000 in order to not close in four weeks, a plan is made to raise funds by putting on a performance of a play that Mother Superior wrote about Bernadette, who saw visions. Since their last play didn't go over so well, and the idea of Mother Superior playing the 14-year-old Bernadette is a major stretch, Sisters Augusta and Philomena kick into action their own back-up plan to use all of the grapes from the orchard to make wine again, in case the play is a bust. Along for the zaniness are Father Chenille and his and Mother Superior's son Paul (they were married before they both got the calling, which was explained in the first play, and Kate is also their daughter), who is on the verge of being ordained to take over for his father who plans to retire. Also secretly visiting the nuns is Paul's twice runaway bride Sally, a former reporter who got the scoop on the orphanage's potential closure and told the sisters about it. Will the orphanage be saved? Will Paul's stage fright be remedied by Father Chenille's hypnosis in time for him to be ordained? And what about the relationship between Paul and Sally–are there still any sparks left there after she stood him up twice at the altar?

Smith manages to combine a wide assortment of plot elements and comic bits into the play and while it does get a tad repetitive in the second act when they are putting on Mother Superior's play, everything is tied up quite well by the end. And even though you pretty much know how the play will end, Smith adds in a few zany plot twists before getting there.

Director Van Rockwell has returned after directing the first play last season and he makes good use of the in-the-round staging to ensure that every audience member feels a part of the action and that the pace is fast and appropriately frenzied at times. The cast all do well portraying their slightly exaggerated characters and all have great comic timing, making every joke land.

Priscilla Bertling and Lauren Tye are hilarious as Sister Augusta and Sister Philomena. Bertling's funny New York accent and humorous facial expressions are perfect and Tye is adorable as the nun who finds it extremely difficult to lie. Adam Petzold does good work as the quirky Paul, especially in portraying his stage fright, and Hillary Low is great as the basically only normal and grounded character in the piece. Randy Rice and Taylor Tunnell are sweet and appealing as George and Kate. Rice does a very good job depicting George's bad acting abilities in the play within the play and Tunnell, as the very pregnant Kate, has good physical comedy skills that get laughs. Toni Kallen and Hal Bliss are equally as good as the vision-seeing, sleep-deprived Mother Superior and the bumbling, magic-loving Father Chenille.

Creative elements are simple but effective, with Cheryl Schaar's scenic design featuring a brick wall drop on one wall of the theatre to depict the convent and realistic costumes by Teresa Knudson. The lighting by Don Bluth and Bret Reese is on point in how it portrays changes in the time of day, as many scenes take place late at night.

With a seasoned cast and bright direction, Drinking Habits 2: Caught in the Act at Don Bluth Front Row Theatre is a fast-paced, quick witted, and funny comedy with a bright, happy ending.

Drinking Habits 2: Caught in the Act runs through March 4, 2023, at the Don Bluth Front Row Theatre, 8989 E. Vía Linda #118, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information visit or call 480-314-0841.

Directed by Van Rockwell
Assistant Director: Stephanie Cartwright
Scenic & Properties Designer: Cheryl Schaar
Lighting Designers: Don Bluth & Bret Reese
Sound Designer: Van Rockwell and Roger McKay
Costume Designer: Teresa Knudson
Stage Manager: Malcolm Hooper

Sister Augusta: Priscilla Bertling
Sister Philomena: Lauren Tye
George: Randy Rice
Mother Superior: Toni Kallen
Sally: Hillary Low
Paul: Adam Petzold
Kate: Taylor Tunnell
Father Chenille: Hal Bliss