The art of improvisational comedy is one of the trickiest forms of showmanship, and performing it solo certainly increases the degree of difficulty, but for Maripat Donovan it’s just another day in the classroom.
Donovan dons a nun’s habit and performs her unscripted, audience-participatory evening of entertainment entitled “Late Nite Catechism,” and she’s done three versions of it previously on the stage of the Laguna Playhouse. Now she’s back for a fourth, and this time she’s targeting couples.
“’Till Death Do Us Part: Late Nite Catechism 3” is the latest in the series, and it’s currently enjoying its world premiere on the playhouse stage. Co-scripted (if that is the right term) by its director, Marc Silvia, the show takes a loving whack at Catholic school education and borrows a gimmick first popularized by Bob Eubanks in the mid-1960s.
“Compatibility” is Donovan’s version of “The Newlywed Game” and pits two couples against each other in a competition for cheesy prizes (the most coveted is a bag of Tootsie Pops).
Saturday’s show featured a faceoff between an engaged pair and a couple married for 56 years.
This segment, which comprises the bulk of the second act, calls on the couples to quickly select choices A or B to a series of rapid-fire questions, the winners being those who pick the same letter. A young lady from the audience (referred to as Vanna White) keeps score while another audience member times the action.
It’s all good fun and a more structured form of humor than the first act, which features Donovan going one-on-nun with the audience in a series of impromptu questions and answers. It’s here where Donovan displays her improvisational skills, presiding over the theater as if all its inhabitants were recalcitrant parochial school students.
Donovan, a seasoned actress who created the “Late Nite Catechism” format in 1993 and has been performing and embellishing it ever since, dominates an audience like few others. She’ll seize on a playgoer’s peculiarity and mine it for all it’s worth — and woe betide you if you don’t precede each remark to her with the word “sister.”
While her show may be more fully appreciated by those who have survived a Catholic school education, there’s something here for everybody. This time around, she’s zeroing in on couples and their relationships, prodding those with long engagements, such as the younger pair at Saturday’s performance.
After more than 15 years and four incarnations of “Late Nite Catechism,” Donovan and her fellow “sisters” (Mary Beth Burns and Nonie Newton-Breen also perform at various times) have gotten into the habit of improvisational entertainment. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable way to get religion.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Coastline Pilot.