The audience was part of the act at Marsh River Theater’s Oct. 16 performance of “Nunsense II.” Seated at tables around the room and in rows in the middle, our role was that of audience in a variety show, in a kind of show within a show.

The performers were nuns, wise-cracking, innuendo dropping and at times flagrantly vulgar in their hard-winking portrayal of religious women threatened by financial ruin. The plot was thin, the humor leaning heavily on jokes and silliness and the songs were not catchy. In all, the play as written left this reviewer with the question, “Why do we go to the theater?”

I suppose there are many reasons. Witnessing a carefully constructed play, honed into existence by players who memorize words and weave a spell of storytelling is a kind of magic that can transport us out of our own story and into a world of fantasy. It can be a relief to take space from the intensely mundane experience of our everyday lives to watch people work through funny or tragic situations.

“Nunsense II” is not a play in a typical sense, but rather a revue. The variety show reminded me of TV fare in the 1950s, that of overly exuberant performers dedicated to effusive sound and movement. Memories of Sunday afternoons, when as kids we staged skits of song and dance for our parents, came up. Did it delight them? Did our parents enjoy the childish antics? Yes, they did. And there were signs that the Brooks audience this Saturday night was delighted, too. Being that it was live, it was a whole lot richer and rounder than anything filmed. That’s a given.

Much has been written and said about local food and local economy, so much that “local” has become a buzz word for all things wonderful. Taken as a whole, the best of the Marsh River Theater experience is a lesson in community. Cast members greet their audience at the door, stroll about the theater talking to theatergoers like they’re the neighbors that they are. Tables are decorated with flowers from local gardens. Homemade baked goods are offered up in the lobby for $1 each. The program reveals that among the cast are those working at places you might go for professional advice or see at a high school basketball game. When the show was delayed by a few minutes, one among the cast announced that we were waiting for the accompanist, whose wife had had a baby the night before. This is the real life surrounding performance art in Brooks and it is beautiful.

When the lights came up and the action began, it must be said that the actresses’ performances could have been more disciplined and that they would have benefited from stronger direction. The acting task they face in this play is more difficult than most. Most plays require actors to work off one another: one actor speaks and the other reacts; they look at one another; they do not stare at the audience. Energy builds from the give and take. Honing the performance art of standup comedy required for this play takes some doing. The standup comic learns the craft of working the audience by playing off the energy in the room. The audience is engaged by the experience. This isn’t easy. It’s why places like Comedy Central exist, for comedians to practice the craft night after night.

A high level of talent is not missing in this cast, starting with S. Harris Hall, the actress portraying Sister Hubert, second in command after the Mother Superior. As a performer Hall can sing, she has great energy, her voice projects throughout the theater. These qualities might cast her in a staged production among musical comedy professionals. Missing in her performance, as is missing in the production as a whole, is the connection between her character and the other sisters, as well as a connection between herself and the audience in anything beyond bare-faced approval seeking.

In scenes that took exception to this disconnect, the audience engaged audibly with the performers, laughing and applauding, as when Sister Hubert and Mother Superior loll about on the floor drinking or when Sister Mary Paul (actress Nan Simpson) engages to such comedic effect with a wooden doll on her lap. That these women were beautiful and charming, there is no doubt. But they can do so much better by deepening their relationships between one another.

We go to the theater is to watch people relate to one another. I once considered joining a group of nuns I met in the mountains of Peru; they were so full of life and fun, but what they had that I wanted was more than just laughs. It was their sense of community and genuine love for one another. You just wanted to hang out with them. It is a rare combination that this group of grown-ups who live together to care so deeply about each others’ lives and enjoy each other so fully. What did the Peruvian nuns have that these didn’t? The nuns in “Nunsense II” were looking for a laugh. A deeper laughter will come out of the relationships explored by these actresses. Trusting the effect and looking for the action would be a more engaging choice for the ensemble as they continue to rehearse their roles for next weekend.

For a live theater experience, however, you might want to join the season’s last show at Marsh River Theater this weekend. It’s local, you’ll have a few laughs and the snacks are delicious.

Final performances are Friday and Saturday. Oct. 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. General admission tickets are $9; $8 each for groups of eight or more; and $7 for those younger than 12 and older than 61. Marsh River Theater is downtown, on Monroe Highway/Route 139. For more information and tickets, call 722-4110.

Jennifer Hill of Waldo’s Hungry Heron Farm studied and performed acting in New York City for seven years before coming to Maine.