It has been 50 years since I attended Catholic school, but November 22, 2014 marked a return to school with Late Night Catechism at the Fox theatre. This is a one-woman show that is as interactive as a stage show can get and it is as funny as stand up comedy can get.
This is one of the longest running shows in history that started in 1993 in Chicago. Maripat Donovan scripted the ‘play’, but one immediately sensed that this was improv at its best. Sister Nonie was conducting catechism class and the audience was the students. No one in the theatre was safe from the scrutiny of the teacher.
The show started with Nonie Breen heading to the stage from the aisle of the audience interacting along the way. Once she arrived, she noticed someone with a box of popcorn. “Hum, popcorn, did you bring enough for the whole class?” The answer was obviously no. “Give me that! Who would like some popcorn? Take some popcorn and pass it to the class,” she offers to another ‘student.’ Class had been convened. She then spoke about what it is like to be Catholic and Catholic guilt. Catholic children were wild, demonic children who thought they were better than other children. Why? Because of their parents’ sacrifice. She looked into the audience at that moment, “Bring me that chapstick! Don’t make me come get it! She then turned to another student, “spit the gum out. Take the Kleenex and put the gum in it. What’s your name? Abilgail. Are you Catholic? No, why not? She’s a Jewish girl! Give me a dollar! Your friends will cover you! Give me your purse. We stole some of the best stuff from the Jews the other day.” She rummaged through the purse and found sunshade, vanilla beans,. I’m sending your purse to the missions.” This was in the first ten minutes of the show.
You get the sense that Sister Nonie honors Catholicism while poking gentle fun at it at the same time. Her timing was impeccable. “And if you’re not Catholic? That’s okay, “she assures us, “no one’s in trouble.” Sister Nonie reminded me of a nun who taught me in grade school. Her name was Sister Elsie. The two had the same tough love approach to their students. Nonie Breen nailed her character all night to the point I could close my eyes and imagine Sister Elsie. Speaking to a ‘class member’, Nonie said, “Quit fanning yourself! I’m up here with 50 pounds of gabardine on. You think you are hot now. Just wait until later.“ It is true back in the old days most orders of nuns wore enough garb to hide five kids behind. The Catholic Church was a lot more ritualistic in the old days. It is a shame that as a child, I did not look at Catholic school with as much of a sense of humor as I can now. Most of the time I saw no humor at all. Life would have been a lot easier with a little ”Late Night Catechism.”