Late Nite Catechism
by Maripat Donovan and Vicki Quade
Produced by Olney Theatre
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Late Nite Catechism – even a caveman knows that the show’s been around for years, but for the uninitiated, the blaring clue in the title, the jargony spelling of “Nite,” speaks volumes about the silliness that awaits.
You don’t have to be of the faith to know that a true Sister would rather submit herself to torture – like watch an endless loop of Sister Act 1, 2, 3 – rather than allow such an egregious error, plus the blatant reference to the catechism, too? Holy Mother, Father, sister and brother, who ever tries to pull this off, attired in full habit, needs to have the equivalent of balls of steel. And Nonie Newton-Breen has got ‘em. The show is hilarious.
The introductory music sets the tone, sounding very preppy 1950’s – was that Perry Como singing something saintly with some choral music patched in? With the music taking you back, you start to remember the starched familiar gingham print uniforms and walking to school with books tucked under your arms – that’s how we carried them before backpacks. Suddenly your reverie is interrupted by the striding entrance of “Sister” who I swear seems to be looking at every single person in the entire theater. Newton-Breen takes command from her entrance and doesn’t give an inch for a second. First of all, there is just something about the full habit attire that incurs a shock and awe response. Next, put someone in command who can spout out zinging one-liners, swivel her head in a Linda Blair 180-dgeree fashion to detect mischief, and still seem compassionate enough to confide in after school. That’s what’s in store for you at the Special Engagement Olney Production.
Her lesson was spelled out on the chalkboard, including a list of saints that the audience judged to determine if they were truly worthy of sainthood, like voting someone off the island or bumping from the American Idol line-up. Saint or No-Saint, she asked sincerely, to which we dutifully responded, keeping all but those who seemed most certifiably insane.
But the ancient lessons served more as a prop for the social and cultural observations that Sister shared. Maybe it was her adoring reference to the picture of J.F Kennedy on the board, or the loudspeaker messages about the cafeteria selections that day, along with Sister’s no-nonsense style, that somehow transported you back to an earlier time, before receding hairlines and belly paunches and withering eyesight, back to the days of willowy physiques and sky is the limit attitudes. Audience members actually volunteered to respond to questions, unflinching about the prospect of being virtually pilloried by a flinty-eyed glance, or even threatened with the always-present ruler in Sister’s hand, and who doesn’t remember what that feels like smacked across the knuckles? Some stood up to answer questions, dutifully responding “Yes, Sister,” and “No, Sister” falling into old familiar rhythms. Even some of the “fast” girls got their comeuppance with Sister’s reference to “untoward cleavage leading to sins of the flesh” and questions like, “Are you chewing gum? Do you have enough for everybody?” At one point, she even likened herself to a heat-seeking raptor in finding mischief, and confiscated a black berry and a purse from several unlucky souls who were busy fidgeting in their own worlds and forgetting they were now in Sister’s clasp.
In these dreary days of reality TV, operation isolation, and virtual life, it was actually quite charming and comforting to relinquish all the gadgetry and just sit and be a kid again. And maybe even learn something new while laughing out loud– with hands to ourselves, sitting straight, and not chewing gum, of course.
(Running Time: Slightly less than 2 hours)
Where: Olney Theatre, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832
When: Thru November 11th. Friday at 7:30 pm; Saturday 5:30 and 9:30 pm, and Sunday matinees 1:30 pm.
Tickets: $25- 40
Info: 301-924-3400 or consult the website.