Late Nite Catechism Should Be a Required Course
By Evelyn Zappia
Catholic San Francisco
Finally, a play that Catholics can enjoy. It’s called Late Nite Catechism, and should be a required course. Think you know your Catholicism? Well, you had better be prepared. From the moment "Sister," portrayed by Maripat Donovan, enters the "classroom," she begins drilling her "students." Her relentless drive for her "pupils" to learn continues even during the 15-minute intermission. She orders the nearly all-Catholics "class" ("Sisters" took a poll) to break into groups to discuss a biblical question. It proved to be a stumper.
In an interview with Catholic San Francisco, Donovan, a Catholic, said she "had the deepest respect for Sisters, and would never ridicule or make fun of them." And the actor kept her word during the one-woman comedy that runs nearly two hours.
Holy Names Sister Katherine Ondreyco agrees, "The portrayal of Sister is done with great respect and I, along with many Sisters, have enjoyed laughing with Sister, and the audience. In fact, I’ve often heard the Sisters say, ‘I recognized myself,’ during certain situations, or that Maripat reminds me of a sister who taught me."
Donovan’s brilliance shines throughout the classroom. Her knowledge of saints is impressive. And her skill to get a room full of strangers discussing Catholicism, respectfully, is amazing. She even clears up some misguided beliefs to a student, who dared to answer the question, "What is the Immaculate Conception?" Later, the student confessed she was Jewish. Donovan replied, "You do know the Jewish people invented guilt but the Catholics perfected it."
Throughout the class, Donovan always managed to keep the topic on Catholicism. She would ask a pupil’s name and remark on it. "Anne is a wonderful name because she was the grandmother of Jesus." Another acceptable name was "Elizabeth," because she was Jesus’ aunt." And, of course, "Mary was the greatest name of all." But when one woman responded that her name was Ellie, Donovan shouted, "What kind of pagan name is that?" Which started a mini-lesson on Saint Helen, the woman’s "true Christian name."
Soon, everyone gets involved in the lesson and Donovan has to tell her pupils to "simmer down," reminding the class "this is not a public school," and if they want to "address Sister, they must raise their hands." Then it’s back to topics like Easter duty and Vatican II.
But things begin to stir-up again when Donovan told a Catholic woman "she had to let go" of her St. Christopher statue on her car’s dashboard, because he is now referred to as "Mr. Christopher," having lost his status of sainthood. The woman said, "Sister, I can’t so that. I named my son Christopher." The woman’s answer was not acceptable, nor was her "attitude."
"I learned so much from the Sisters," said Donovan, referring to her 16-year Catholic education. "I received a fabulous education. I wasn’t the best student either, but still they cared. I owe them."
Donovan repays the Sisters at the end of each show. In a moving speech, she asks the audience for donations to support the Sister’s retirement fund that is in great need of financial help. "This is one of the ways you can express your gratitude to the Sisters who have taught and formed you," she said. The actor then runs around to the back of the theater, holding a bucket for donations, standing prominently near the exit, making it difficult to escape her mission.
To date, the international play has raised "a half million dollars," according to Donovan. Recently, Sister Katherine, development director of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in Los Gatos, received $15,000 toward support for their retired Sisters. "The donation is one of many that have benefited religious orders, not only in the United Sates but internationally," said Sister Katherine.
"I agree with Maripat when she tells the audience, ‘the show, at heart, is a tribute to the rigorous Catholic education system and the dedication of the Sisters," Sister Katherine said.
Donovan teamed-up with friend, Vicki Quade, and formed a writing partnership in 1992, creating Late Nite Catechism in 1993. Since then it’s been a hit in New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and a host of other cities across the U.S. Additional productions in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia recently ended after playing two years in each city. Donovan was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award in New York, and recently won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Lead Performance.
Late Nite Catechism is playing at the Union Square Playhouse at 340 Mason Street, San Francisco.
Long-Running Catechism Is a Habit-Forming Hoot
By Alfred Doblin
Dec. 20, 1996
I’m wary about nun shows. Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All is one of meanest, ugliest nun shows out there. Nunsense, which has spawned a few sequels, is silly, but harmless. Late Nite Catechism, though, is the real thing- it is funny, witty, well-written and one of the most enjoyable evenings of theater you could ever hope to find.
The show, written by Chicagoans Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan is right on the mark without ever having the slightest mean streak. Both Quade and Donovan know their Catholicism. They have based it on their own experiences growing up Catholic and perhaps the only surprise I found is that they wax nostalgically over the pre-Vatican II Church in Sister’s last monologue.
Late Nite Catechism has been playing in Chicago since 1993 and is now settled in the Ivanhoe Theatre, 750 W. Wellington, Chicago. It is a warm intimate setting for Sister’s one-woman show.
Currently Sister is played by Mary Zentmyer, who gives Sister just the right balance of no-nonsense and genuine warmth and humor. It is a loving portrayal that will remind you of many a real nun.
Where Late Nite Catechism soars above its genre is in its knowledge of what it is spoofing. Under the pretext of an adult catechism class, Sister, who is filling in for Fr. Murphy who is off playing poker, first covers some basic Catholic teaching engaging the audience in the questioning process. (There are "nifty" prizes for correct answers.)
"What does the Immaculate Conception really stand for?" she asks. Later she explains it should have been called the Immaculate Misconception since most Catholics think it applies to Jesus’ birth instead of Mary’s birth without Original Sin.
Sister reflects on the glory days of Catholic schools and now comments on how many city schools are empty or up for sale-"Opus Dei wants to open up a material arts school," Sister relates.
While some of the humor is clearly "in house," much of it is broad-based enough for non-Catholics to enjoy. And the constant interaction with the audience/class is perfectly balanced.
Sister explains the changes in the Church. When she recalls her own childhood and eating fish on Friday she adds, "I can’t look at a Mrs. Paul’s fishstick today." Or how women substituted almost anything in a pinch for a hat in church. And there are several funny and original bits about the past uses of the classroom ruler.
Writers Quade and Donovan go past the easy jokes to find the dedication and yes, the intelligence, of all those sisters of our past. And they succeed gloriously.
Even the small role of the visiting priest is funny, but lovable as the "class" must audition for the parish pageant. There is not a mean-spirited moment in Late Note Catechism.
The main thrust of the play, though, is Sister explaining the lives of several saints who are up for review. L’Osservatore Romano sent a letter to the pastor, and since Sister opens all the mail, she reads the letter to the class. The Vatican is reviewing the authentically of saints. She then explains what happened to St. Christopher and then proceeds to go through a list of saints on the black board. The class gets to vote on who should stay a saint and who should go.
The lives of the saints are accurate but hilarious. She covers St. Veronica, St. Patrick and St. Maria Goretti to name but a few.
Late Night catechism is a perfect show for church groups looking for an outing. There is absolutely nothing offensive in the material. The audience participation is never obtrusive and the Ivanhoe Theatre is a modern enough space to accommodate older theatergoers who might have trouble navigating tiny uptown Chicago theatres.
At the performance I attended there was even a real collection held after the show for the benefit of St. Patrick’s Residence in Naperville.
Quade and Donovan have created a wonderful theatrical piece and Mary Zentmyer’s portrayal of Sister is a four-star winner. I can’t recommend Late Nite Catechism enough. Go see it this holiday season. It’s a hoot!
Catechism Gets a Gold Star
By Heidi Schlumpf
The New World
March 14, 1997
We Catholics sure love to laugh at ourselves.
Can you imagine a blockbuster movie featuring a singing rabbi? There’s no genre of books poking fun at the foibles of being Methodist. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a play about those looney Lutherans.
That said, Late Nite Catechism, which has been playing in Chicago for four years, is one of the better "isn’t-it-funny-to-be-Catholic" productions.
Created by Chicago Catholics Maripat Donovan and Vicki Quade, the interactive, one-woman show features Mary Zentmyer as "Sister" teaching a session of adult catechism class (It’s like traffic school!") on Father Murphy’s poker night.
You, the audience, are her pupils. So be ready to be admonished if you’re chewing gum or to be called on stage for an impromptu "skirt check" if you’re wearing something above the knee.
But you also could win one of several prizes-like a glow-in-the-dark plastic rosary or a Blessed Virgin Mary magnet-if you answer some of her pop-quiz questions correctly. (You might want to brush up on the Immaculate Conception and the difference between venial and mortal sins.)
Zentmyer as "Sister" is a riot. She’s got the role down perfectly, from her sensible shoes to her shaking finger as she says, "Even you publics should know that!"
But "Late Nite Catechism" has got something so many other Catholic parodies don’t- respect for the faith. The script (and Zentmyer’s impromptu aside comments) could practically get an imprimatur. She even was up-to-date on the pope’s recent comments about evolution.
Many Catholics may actually learn a thing or two, if not about the difference between first-, second- and third class relies, then about the saints themselves.
You’ll laugh at both the absurdity and the embarrassing realism of "Late Nite Catechism."
It may just be the anecdote for some of the negativity that sometimes plagues the church today. After all, you have to be able to laugh at yourselves.
Go Back to School with Late Nite Catechism
By Donna DeFalco
August 7, 1998
With school set to start in a few weeks, it’s time for students to let down the hem on the plaid jumper or the dark blue pants, buy a white shirt in the next size or wear a hand-me-down from sibling and put on best manners for Sister, who will be teaching a class ranging upwards of 50 or more students.
Most Catholic schools employ a majority of lay teachers these days and this might sound like a scenario from an earlier time. If so, then you’ve taken a seat in "Sister’s" classroom to hear about "Late Nite Catechism," the long-running play at the Ivanhoe Theatre that puts audience members smack dab in the middle of a Catholic education via the words of playwrights Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan.
Quade based the play on her formative experiences attending St. Albert the Great Grammar School in Burbank and Queen of Peace High School in Burbank. Donovan also attended Catholic grammar school on the South side of Chicago and the Jesuit institution Loyola University. In a recent telephone interview, Quade talked about the play and how she came to collaborate with Donovan.
"I am the person I am today because I had that education," Quade said. "The nuns had an amazing influence on us. The nuns really were your second mothers. You spent as much time with time those nuns as you did with your mother on an average day. There was one nun and 52 kids…That nun had to maintain control in the classroom."
Although she never revealed the desire to her instructors, Quade admitted she always wanted to be a writer. As a child she "was too shy to tell anybody about it…I never told anybody about my desire to write…I just did it myself."
An except from The Reader notes that in "Late Nite Catechism," Quade and Donovan "offer a critique of American Catholicism (our rituals, our guilts, our traditions, our guilts, our school, our guilts- oy, our guilts) even a devout believer could love. No wonder the show has been such a popular success, both here and in regional productions around the country."
"Catechism" has also enjoyed success in Canada and Australia with plans in the works for production s in Dublin and London.
An Australia version ran for two years. When the authors attended the opening in Melbourne, a woman stopped them after the performance and said, "I’m from the Bush and you wrote about my life."
Quade and Donovan were struck by the woman’s comment. Although they based the play on their Chicago Catholic upbringing, "It was the whole Catholic experience. She was raised in the same Catholic environment. The Universality of it- that’s what really caught us."
Donovan had approached Quade with an idea of collaborating on a play in March 1993. The play was supposed to open on September, but somehow the deadline was advanced and a script was needed by April 1. Quade was given four weeks to write a play and, "That’s what I did," she said. "I worked every spare second I had." The draft took her three weeks to complete. Donovan added more to the script during rehearsal when she played the original "Sister," the main character in "Catechism," and a hit was born. Quade said the play continues to evolve. "It’s a very topical play," she said.
When she was very little, Quade said, "I didn’t think nuns were human. I thought they were a liaison between humans and angels. It took me a while to realize that they were human beings, that they had feelings and everything else."
Through the years of grammar school, she and her family befriended the Adrian Dominicans who taught St. Albert’s. Quade’s mother still keeps in touch with them and when the play debuted, her mother instantly began receiving phone calls. "Nuns are actually one of our biggest supporters," Quade said.
During a recent benefit performance for St. Patrick’s Residence, a nursing /long-term care facility in Naperville run by the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm, Laura Mahoney of the development office had her camera confiscated by "Sister."
"I took a picture of her because I needed it for the newsletter," Mahoney explained. ‘She swooped down, took the camera and said,’ If that ever happens again young lady …" And I apologized to her just as though I were a student."
Mahoney said the play "makes you think of all the changes in our lives and the changes in the world. We’d love to see it again and again…We’re very grateful for them for including us. Vicki’s very inclusive and thoughtful."
Quade said they do a lot of fund-raisers. "We like to help out if we can…It’s an easy way to pay back for the education we received."
The audience immediately sits up a little straighter when Rosie Newton, who currently plays "Sisters" at the Ivanhoe Theatre in Chicago, walks out on stage. The audience doesn’t know her order or her name, but they can tell by her habit, she means business. Newton, who is also a product of Catholic schools said, "Our homework is done for us. We’re counting on our collective memory. You don’t have to explain to people what I’m talking about."
Quade said audience members respond because, "No matter where they grew up, they were taught and raised by nuns- and really raised by nuns. We are all sort of in a family, aren’t we?
Don’t Be Late for this Class
Review from The Tidings, Los Angeles
May 21, 1999
The Henry Fonda Theatre in Hollywood reopens after renovations with "Late Nite Catechism," a nostalgic two-act romp through Roman Catholic schooling, Vatican II-isms and the lives of saints. All takes place under the watchful eye of the strict-but-ever-loving "Sister," played with the comedic self-assurance of a queen of improv by Maripat Donovan.
Once you sit down in Sister’s evening catechetical class for adults, however, the only queen you better be talking about –er, whispering about – is the Queen of Heaven. And you better know the difference between the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth (Hint: There is a difference), and who married Cain and Abel (Hint: Not Betty and Wilma).
The stage design (by Marc Silvia) makes you feel like you’re sitting in your old third-grade classroom at St. Whomever’s. Donovan even assigns a class monitor during the 15 minute intermission, in which the audience is to breakup into discussion groups. The music piped in before the play and during intermission ranges from canned cantatas to 1950s- and ‘60s-style catholic children’s songs.
The pacing of the play depends on the audience and their reticence to answer Sister’s questions. The more Catholics, the better. The more non-practicing, the more hilarious.
"Don’t be afraid," Donovan assures her audience. "Here’s the advice: Don’t chew gum, don’t come late and don’t wear a short skirt because those are the things that can get in trouble, whether you’re a Catholic or not."
Donovan co-wrote the play with Vicki Quade.
In her interaction with the audience, Donovan is stern-but-forgiving. She interrogated a woman who had two Theresas in her name but knew nothing about St. Theresas of Lisieux. She pointed out another audience member who left I the middle of the first act, admonishing her to "make sure and wash your hands, dear." And for the man in the front row who brought a bag of candy, she had this advice: "Next time, bring enough for everybody." She then confiscated the bag to send to the missions.
Correct answers to Sister’s questions are rewarded with small plastic statues of Mary or the baby Jesus; an "In case of accident, please call a priest" identity card; or the ubiquitous glow-in-the-dark plastic rosary.
The second act is a chance to stump Sister, said Donovan’s writing partner, Quade. "This nun is a real character," Quade said. "She’s three-dimensional, smart, funny and yet faithful."
Sister is prepared for just about anything that’s thrown at her, from the silly (What do eggs have to do with Easter?) to the sublime (What is the Trinity, exactly?)
When you go to the delightful "Late Nite Catechism," remember "to bring another soldier of Christ along" and some cash to donate to Sister’s favorite charity: the retirement fund for the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. Just a warning: she takes up the collection herself and she stands at the exits. No joke!