The Robe Warriors meet at Jewel Box Theatre

When a protesting nun meets a "by the book" judge, comedy and drama result in the newest play offered at Poulsbo's Jewel Box Theatre.

POULSBO — Sondra Ashton and Gordon Weeks are both very experienced actors, but the two faced real challenges developing their characters for the two-person play “Handy Dandy.” The Charles Gibson comedy opens Friday at the Jewel Box Theatre in Poulsbo.

The play unfolds with an explosive Judge Henry (Weeks) trying to disconnect a bomb that has landed in his courtroom in the form of the pushy Sister Molly (Ashton). The Boston District Court Judge is torn between making the highly unpopular decision of putting the Catholic nun in prison for trespassing during a nuclear research protest and listening to her rants about his life.

But while there is friction — and plenty of it — on the surface, the two opposites eventually find that they’re not too different from one another.

“Here’s a judge in a real dilemma,” director David Speck remarked, explaining that Henry Pulaski must make the call whether or not to toss the mouthy sister in jail. “He’s really in a fix and she won’t back down.”

Speck said last week that he was excited to be tackling such a difficult piece from a writer who has created such memorable plays as “The Miracle Worker” and “Two for the Seesaw.”

“He calls this a comedy… but,” Speck said, pointing out that while there is certainly humor in “Handy Dandy” there are also very serious issues being addressed between the laughs.

“The dialogue cracks and sparkles,” he explained with a smile. “It gives the actors so much to work with.”

As the characters interact in the 1983 Cold War drama though, something happens to their relationship.

“This nun makes him face a lot of things in his life,” Weeks said.

Playing a hardened, quarrelsome, noisy judge is a stretch for the Port Orchard resident but it’s an exercise he has found somewhat liberating as well. Weeks pulls off the performance in grand fashion despite the fact that playing the conservative “Henry” is quite taxing.

“It’s draining,” Weeks admitted.

But the two roles are also liberating and allow the actors to emote.

For Ashton, the role of the feisty nun is even more difficult to slip into because it forces her to re-evaluate the choices she has made in her own life.

“It’s a really hard character because I have to go to emotional places that are not myself,” she said. “I have to re-examine deep beliefs.”

Ashton was a political science major in college and hoped to change the world. In the end, she just felt helpless — something which her character compels her to confront.

“Molly ignores this helplessness,” she explained. “I really had to go back to what at one time were strong beliefs. Hers is an opposite road and I have to look at why I took mine.”

Raised Catholic, Ashton said she can associate with some of the guilt which was so prevalent in some of the church’s teachings. Playing Sister Molly though, the actress must face these abandoned concepts once again.

“I used to be driven by guilt but I put that behind me,” she said, adding that she was under going a “religious examination” of sorts. “My old beliefs come creeping out.”

“Handy Dandy” kicks off at the Jewel Box Theatre this Friday, April 12 at 8 p.m. the Jewel Box Theatre in Poulsbo. It continues on Saturday, April 13 and every Friday and Saturday thereafter until May 11. Tickets, which are available in advance at Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo and the Kitsap Mall information desk in Silverdale, are $12 for adults, $10 for students and seniors.

“This show will be a delight for everyone,” Speck promised.