Listen to the Sister

When it comes to making money, Catholics are pretty damn good. Sure that's a gross generalization, but one stroll through Vatican City or a look at the $189 million Los Angeles Cathedral shows that the rock that Jesus built his church upon is on quite solid financial footing.

So it's no surprise that one of the most successful theatrical endeavors of the past 20 years was started by, and is all about, Catholicism: Late Night Catechism. Launched in 1993 by two Chicago thespians who grew up Catholic, the one-woman, half stand-up comedy, half structured catechism class is an interactive theater piece that's received more than 250,00 productions worldwide.  

The Laguna Playhouse is currently mounting the third installment of Late NIght Catechism: Late Night Catechism 3, 'Til Death Do Us Part. Like the first two installments, there's a little bit of talk about Catholic sacraments--specifically marriage and last rites--a great deal of audience interaction, and enough funny to keep you grinning nearly the whole time.

But the real reason to see this version is that Maripat Donovan, one of the two women who started Late NIght Catechism 17 years ago, is the featured performer this time around. Donovan obviously knows this material intimately, since she wrote it and co-created the character 17 years ago. It's impossible to think of anyone but Donovan performing this role; she is likeably gruff, firmly in command of her "class"--which, on a Monday night in Laguna, had a median edge of probably 60--and is able to draw even a quiet, reserved audience into her domain.

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Though billed as a late night, rarely does Donovan even cross into PG-13 territory. She is funny without resorting to crassness either in language or material. Probably the bluest reference is when she says"there's nothing worse than a bad caulk job in the bathtub." Nor does the material skewer or even spoof Catholicism, as much as it gently ribs Catholics.

And that's an important distinction. There really is no agenda at work here: This isn't a show that defends or ridicules Catholicism. If there's any target it's the foibles of the people who practice the faith. Sure, an intensely devout Catholic might object to Donovan demanding two women in the front row spit out their gum because if Jesus hanging on the cross in the blistering heat of the Holy Land didn't have gum to sooth his dry mouth they shouldn't either, but even that humanizes the faith of the world's most successful mystery religion.

Something else also humanizes Late Night Catechism: Toward the end of the show, Donovan--or whatever talented lady is playing Sister that night--informs the audience that nuns receive no pension or retirement from the Catholic Church Many Catholic congregations take up offerings for destitute nuns in their weekly masses, but, after explaining the dire situation of many sisters,  Donovan asks the audience to pitch in. It's completely voluntary--although the sight of Donovan holding a collection basket at the exit of the theater makes it feel a bit more compulsory--but through Late Night Catechism's efforts, Donovan said, more than $3 million has been raised to assist retired nuns.

Told you them Papists know how to make dough.... 


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