Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
Tag Archives: Maripat Donovan
Note: As this review is uploaded there are only two more performances available at this site.
Anyone who has ever been to one of the Late Night Catechism franchise of productions is in for a treat. Started by Maryipat Donovan, who still occasionally appears in one of its various manifestations, the shows are ostensibly one in a series of night catechism classes for adults led by a practical, habited nun. She invariably draws upon audience members’ memories of Catholic upbringings, welcomes those not of that faith into the fold with humor and a few oddities (see what happens if an audience member claims to be a Presbyterian), and gently ribs the rudiments of the religion being represented.
The prizes are prayer cards, the assumptions are intentionally silly, and the result proves very funny for Catholics, non-Catholics, even non-religious folk alike.
Now, at Sierra Madre Playhouse, one of the tribe of “Sisters”, Aubrey Manning, delivers Late Night Catechism’s session on marriage and death, “Till Death Do Us Part”. The audience interplay is as charmingly sincere as always. The prayer cards, which always come with intricate, and sometimes silly explanations, delight. The audience, having been instantly put at ease, chimes in when bid, like any good class would. It is a gentle but unmistakable hit.
As someone who has, up until now, only seen Donovan herself appear as Sister, it was delightful to see the somewhat different but equally effective, and intentionally “off the cuff” work of Manning. That balance of command and conviction, of sincerity and the occasional wink, and the ability to make an entire room of reasoning adults behave as if back in school proves right on target, and makes the humor flow from start to finish.
The story, such as it is, revolves around explaining the Catholic beliefs regarding the sacraments of marriage and what is most commonly known as “extreme unction,” or the rights given to the dying. Tying the two together is funnier than one would think, and the focus on the former – including a quiz which brings long-term couples down front to compete in what can only be called the opposite of the Newlywed Game – proves particularly effective.
Indeed, more than most theatrical offerings, the Late Night Catechism is deeply audience-based. There are warm fuzzies to be had, revelations to be made, lessons to be learned, and a good deal of innocent laughter. Is it deep? It depends on how you look at it. Unlike shows such as “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You,” which finds its dark comedy in bitter condemnations of Catholic doctrine, or “Doubt,” which deals quite seriously with the internal struggles between obedience and potential depravity in the institutional halls of the faith, “Late Night Catechism” celebrates the humor to be found in the earnest teachings of the roots of the thing. All serious institutions should occasionally hold such a mirror up to themselves, even if just for the fun of it.
So, if you need a warm laugh, go take a look at SMP’s offering. Manning is an old hand at this, the fun is nonthreatening, and the charm will lighten a tough era in all our lives.
What: “Till Death Do Us Part – Late Night Catechism 3” When: Through October 1, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday Where: Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd. in Sierra Madre How Much: $32 general, $28 seniors, $23 youth 21 and under Info: (626) 355-4318 or sierramadreplayhouse.org
In the six years since Maripat Donovan began her stint as Sister in “Late Night Catechism” people have been charmed by the humorous, though not bitingly satiric, homage to traditional Catholic doctrine this supposed teaching nun delivers. After the long initial runs of the original work, Donovan and her writing partner/director Marc Silvia have taken Sister’s evening catechism lectures in many different directions.
The newest of these, “Late Night Catechism Las Vegas: Sister Rolls the Dice,” involves Sister’s plans to fund-raise using a Vegas Night. First she wants to try out her newly minted magic and card trick skills on her evening class. Now at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, thanks to the McCoy-Rigby Series, the new show has many of the qualities which have made LNC such a franchise: wry wit, sincerity and an atmosphere reminiscent of a particular kind of gleeful amateurism (though, of course, Donovan is no amateur).
All the most popular bits are there: the casual inclusion of elemental Catholicism (prayer cards are handed out, saints are invoked, and even the magic tricks have occasional flickers of iconography), the question and answer segments, the insistence on respectful behavior. And yet, as always, the show is more than the sum of its parts, in great measure because of Donovan’s ownership if Sister. She gets this woman – the way she thinks, the way she copes with mistakes or outrageous questions or even inappropriate clothing. As the character shows love of life, so the audience shows love of the character.
The Las Vegas theme is a bit free-form, however, made up more than usually of ad libs based on audience participation. This may add to the silliness quotient, but it leaves little for the “class” time – the wonderfully free-form interpretations of Catholicism which have been the trademark of earlier LNC renditions. Still, the fun is there, and by the time Donovan gives her usual pitch for funds for local nuns in retirement (the last time in La Mirada it bought a local nuns’ retirement home a van), the audience is ready to give back after an evening of light, airy, silly entertainment.
The night I saw it was particularly lacking in folks who were Catholic, which is really too bad. Those raised in Catholic schools, or in the church itself, are usually those who laugh the loudest. Still, those who were there were having a great time. One word of warning: if you sit close to the front be sure you’re wearing clothing you’d want the rest of the audience to see, as you are very likely to be asked to stand, or even go onstage. I’m sure at least one person so called upon, on opening night, wished they’d been warned.
What: “Late Night Catechism Las Vegas: Sister Rolls the Dice” When: Through November 16, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays Where: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd. in La Mirada How Much: $20 – $70 Info: (562) 944-9801, (714) 994-6310, or http://www.lamiradatheatre.com