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An irreverent look back at catechism

Maurice Barnfather

In an imaginative, confident piece of programming, Burbank’s Falcon

Theatre has been giving audiences an opportunity to see a vastly

entertaining production by Marc Silvia of one of the more intelligent

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and funny plays on the comedy circuit.

In a world where uniformity is praised, blandness preferred and

entertainment comes in unoriginal little packages, “Late Nite

Catechism” has a moment-to-moment vitality and remains a giant among

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pygmies, doing its own thing while making us laugh and think in the

process.

As affecting as it is funny, “Catechism,” vividly written by Vicki

Quade and Maripat Donovan, has become an international cult favorite

since its opening in Chicago as a late-night offering 10 years ago.

And for good reason.

Walk into the Falcon and you’re in a typical Catholic school

classroom: pictures of Christ on the cross, a statue of the Virgin

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Mary, and a blackboard with names of saints written on it. When

Sister, immaculately conceived on this evening by Nonie Newton-Breen,

walks in and asks the students (the audience) to “simmer down,” it is

clear what kind of interactive evening we’re in for.

She tells us we’re in a catechism class, quizzes us on Catholic

trivia and hands out glow-in-the-dark rosaries, a pre-approved

God-linked credit card and other prizes for correct responses.

Naughty students may find themselves on stage, sitting in a corner,

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reflecting on their actions.

But it is a measure of Newton-Breen’s persuasiveness as an actor

that, with lubricious glee, she effortlessly pulls out all the

Catholic stops, all the cliches: in the afterlife purgatory is

compared to being grounded; limbo is “the nursery of Heaven.” She

pities children who were not sent to Catholic school but to the

“publics,” saying it was because their parents did not love them

enough.

And Sister is up to date on the news: St. Patrick, it seems,

banished all the snakes from Ireland and sent them to Halliburton,

while Saddam Hussein’s “goofy” love of Romance novels is another

reason why “he’s going to hell.”

Whether you’re a Catholic school alumnus, a practicing Catholic, a

lapsed Catholic or a non-Catholic, you will enjoy how Sister spicily

punctuates a play while preaching about Catholic guilt and

redemption.


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