Late Nite Catechism by Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan. Directed by Marc Silvia.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Before the time of semi-automatic weapons in the classroom..."
photo provided by The Colonial Theatre
Have you wondered why the Catholic Church decided to close six churches, all at once, in Pittsfield? Has it occurred to you that kissing the highly bejeweled, 18 carat gold ring on the finger of a Pontiff has no effect at all on your salvation? Do you still believe that being good and holding an "Iím Catholic. Call a Priest" card or medal can send your soul straight to heaven? These questions, and more, will all be answered for you, if you listen closely and participate in the Q&A session, at the adult catechism class being held at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield this week. One thing - donít be late; Sister doesnít like that.
In a one-woman tour-de-force comedy, "Late Nite Catechism" featuring Lela Frechette as Sister, playwrights Quade and Donovan set forth a series of lessons that are much gentler than the ones played out for you in Christopher Durangís "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You." In that comedy the titled nun goes crazy and exterminates the bad boys and girls right in front of your eyes. Nothing so drastic happens here, although Sisterís collection of miniature chairs made out of rulers broken over the hands, knees and backs of bad little children does have an emotional impact.
This comedy is highly interactive. Sister stalks her classroom, you the audience, and she lectures on topics as wide-ranging as the Old Testament, the condition of Limbo and the Stigmata. She regales us with bible tales and catholic humor. She taunts us until we respond, diddles us with adverbs hoping for a complete sentence answer to one of her questions and offers us, as rewards, plastic relics, convertible crosses and statues of questionable saints.
The topic of the saints engages her interest for quite a while. She examines the history of several scheduled for disenfranchising by the sitting Pope. Of course, this nun has her own opinions about the men and women in question and she makes her own deliberate - and quite correct - decisions.
Donít think for a minute that you have to be Catholic, or the product of parochial schooling, to get the jokes, feel the ruler crack or learn your historically accurate concepts and phrases. No. This is a class for anyone, Catholic, Protestant, Jew, anyone. And anyone is fodder for this teaching nunís sharp-eyed wit.
Lela Frechette, who plays Sister, seems unflappable. Audience member who get out of line, get her whip-like reactions. Good little Catholic girls get her stamp of approval and a prize.Thereís an opportunity to learn things you never thought - in your wildest dreams - youíd know. How to sell your house effectively, for example, using the good graces of St. Joseph. Frechette seems to take particular delight in this anecdote and she milks it for all its worth. She is equally good at her biblical imitations: Adam, Jesus, Mary, to name a few. As she puts it, "not bad, huh?"
Frechette, alone unless you count her victims, or students, holds the stage for just over two hours with a short intermission. Itís a tribute to her stand-up technique that nothing really phases her in this show. She roles with each variation the audience provides and even answers snappy questions with a seemingly improvised response that stays right in character.
Director Marc Silvia keeps the show afloat. Sister could sit, but she never really did in the opening night performance in Pittsfield. Instead she rambled, roamed and wore a track in the floor as she literally staked the audience for God. Whatever you do, donít let her thick eyeglasses fool you. This nun can see you, see into your soul, see through you. And she can hear you wherever you are, so sitting in the back, or even in the balcony, wonít keep you safe during your two-hour, adult makeup catechism class. It is said that you cannot hide from God. Maybe you can, but you canít hide from Sister.
photo provided; photo: J. Peter Bergman
Late Nite Catechism is playing a one week run through February 24 at the Colonial Theatre, 111 South Street, in Pittsfield, MA. Ticket prices range from $19-$30. Shows are at 8:00pm with matinees at 2:00 on Saturday and Sunday. For availability call their box office at 413-997-4444 or find them on line at www.thecolonialtheatre.org.