Houston Chronicle Shopping Autos Real Estate Jobs Blogs Travel Life Entertainment Business Sports News chron.com

« Side Show boasts strong leads, moving songs and story | Main | Call Crime Stoppers! The bad baronets of Ruddygore are back »

July 13, 2007

Late Nite Catechism a mildly amusing class with bossy Sister

By EVERETT EVANS
Houston Chronicle

Late Nite Catechism is Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You-lite, Nunsense minus the silly songs.

A combination stand-up comedy act and interactive catechism class, the novelty entertainment has run 13 years in Chicago and played successfully off-Broadway and in other cities. It's now making its Houston premiere at Stages Repertory Theatre -- where that scathing satire Sister Mary was an oft-reprised hit of the company's early years.

Despite starting with a similar format, Late Nite is "Sister Mary's polar opposite. This show merely wants to generate some simple laughs without stepping on anyone's toes. There's no social critique, no ``point,'' not much point of view.

``Everybody sit up straight!'' Amanda Hebert orders, barging in as the bulldoggedly bossy yet jovial Sister. ``What do we say when Sister enters the room?'' she chides the audience, cast as participants in adult catechism class.

``Good morning, Sister,'' everyone responds, already cowed -- only to be corrected that it's evening. Back comes the correct response.

Most of the biggest laughs stem from Sister's interaction with the audience, many apparently quite eager to play along. Naturally, Sister finds a woman in the front row wearing unacceptable attire.

``Pull that skirt down,'' she orders, dispensing Kleenex to cover the lap of the miscreant.

She extracts a fine of $1 for each infraction, such as talking out of turn or not knowing a correct answer. Sterling performance by the students is rewarded with such prizes as glow-in-the-dark rosaries and miniature statues of saints.

Such interplay is funniest at the start, less so as the show progresses and it becomes repetitious. The same is true of the scripted material by Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan. Sister's lessons are rather aimless and often redundant.
We get stories of different saints and their eccentricities, speculation as to the possible mates of Cain and Abel, discussion of different locales in the afterlife.

An occasional line summons the bite the overall show lacks -- as when Sister, dispensing a keychain as a prize, notes: ``God protects, but if God happens to be busy that day, it's got a knife in it.'' Or the absurdity of Sister explaining that, once someone is stricken with the stigmata, ``not even Neosporin can help.''

Hebert plays Sister with an air of exasperated bluster reminiscent of Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden. Her skilled delivery, timing and rapport with the audience help the piece along tremendously.

Overall, Late Nite Catechism proves mildly amusing, but slight and uninvolving fare. It likely would make a sharper impression as an intermissionless, 90 minute piece than in its present, two-act, two-hour format.

I think it will be best appreciated by those who experienced a Catholic school education and remember it fondly. But there certainly seemed to be quite a few of those at Friday night's opening performance.

everett.evans@chron.com

Late Nite Catechism
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 30
Where: Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway
Tickets: $30; 713-527-0123

Posted by Everett Evans at July 13, 2007 11:53 PM

Comments