The Catholic Standard and Times -

-Bob Koenig

Award-Winning Playwright

Dan Goggin really likes nuns. I mean he really likes nuns. He likes them so much that he said he wanted to write a show that would portray them the way he remembered them: as fun-loving, good-natured, and just plain nice people. Well, Goggin did that and more. His musical comedy hit, "Nunsense," which is here for an extended run at The Society Hill Playhouse, is not only a crowd-pleaser -- it's an award winner.

Goggin has just won himself an armful of timely awards for the production of his play that has been such a success in Manhattan. "Nunsense" has won prestigious Outer Critics' Circle Awards as Best Musical of 1986, with Best Music, Best Book and an award for one of the original cast members, Semina De Laurentis, who created the role of Sister Mary Amnesia, one of the Little Sisters of Hoboken who perform the "fund-raiser" cabaret around which "Nunsense" revolves.

Now Goggin's whole life is consumed with nuns and "Nunsense," and that's OK with him, as he related recently in an interview with The Catholic Standard and Times.

"One of the reasons I wanted to do 'Nunsense,' " he recalled, "is that I had always had a good experience with nuns. My strong feeling was, 'This is what they're really like, if you want to know.'

"And the nuns who come to see it are so pleased with it. They're real happy to send other people to see it."

And that makes Dan Goggin very happy -- and very busy. In addition to the "Nunsense" companies here and in New York, his show has had a run in Toronto, with companies soon to go onstage in Detroit, San Francisco and Florida. Interest has also been expressed in the seemingly inevitable movie rights to the property.

"My experience with nuns has always been fantastic," explained Goggin, who now makes his home in New York City but was raised in Elma, Mich., where he said he was taught by Marywood Dominican Sisters.

"There was a pinball machine in the basement of the convent and Sister Mary Rita let us come over on weekends and she played the machine with us." he said. "Another of the Sisters used to go ice skating with us. Sister Anna Cleta was an artist. She used to make rosaries for poor people. Every character (in "Nunsense") is based on a nun that I knew.

On his way to his theatrical achievements, which Goggin is rather modest about, he detoured to a stint in a seminary and also with the Franciscan 'Brothers in Brooklyn for a time, but Broadway beckoned and his career has always seemed to be interesting -- one in which Philadelphia itself is a recurring character.

He performed in the Broadway drama "Luther," by John Osborne, which tried out here at the Forrest Theatre. He was a member of a folk group named The Saxons, which performed locally at Thomas Jefferson University and at La Salle College in the 1960s. He wrote scores for a Broadway as well as an Off-Broadway play, too. Then he and friend Marilyn Farina hit on an idea for greeting cards with nun themes. The humorous notes, with their comic puns punctuated by make-believe Sisters, caught on, were evolved into a musical revue called "The Nunsense Story," and grew into the popular "Nunsense."

"My favorite comment about the show comes from nuns who ask, 'OK, who had the inside track?' " Goggin said. "When we played in Toronto two Sisters of St. Joseph came and said they loved the show and asked if 'Nunsense' could play for their jubilee next year for 1,000 Sisters."

Goggin confessed that making "Nunsense" a stage success has not been as difficult as many might think. He expected it to be liked, but "nothing like this," he said. "It just kind of grew," he added about the show that has become his full-time job, putting on the "back burner" another musical entitled, perhaps prophetically, "A One-Way Ticket to Broadway."

The artistic nod of his recent crop of awards has been the icing on the cake for Goggin's creation.

"They really did see the artistic level we were going for," Goggin said of the critics' obvious approval of "Nunsense" as not just another "Catholic show." 'The awards gave 'Nunsense' validity it might not have had in some people's minds. The Philadelphia production is truly the one that validates it. Everybody asked, 'What's going to happen when it plays outside of New York?"

The already relatively long run of "Nunsense," more than 11 weeks here, is the answer to the question, as Dan Goggin looks to other cities to conquer with his friends, the nuns.

Bob Koenig frequently writes on theatre for The Catholic Standard and Times.