My first hint that I was maybe not the right guy to review this production came when one of the producers—Cathy Rigby's husband, in fact—walked onstage before the show and announced to the season ticket holders that the final show of the season would be A Chorus Line and that since there were “quite a few naughty words” in the show, particularly in one song having to do with womanly “pectorals and gluteus maximuses” (I believe that was his rendering of the plural), a heads-up might be appropriate for those sensitive of ear. “And please, no letters!”
Hint after similar hint followed—fell like hail, actually—in the next couple of hours.
Late Night Catechism is a one-woman show, performed plenty amiably by Maripat Donovan, in which she pretends she's a nun informing and berating an adult catechism class, and the audience pretends—pretended with explosive enthusiasm the night I went—they're pupils being berated the way most of them were when they went to Catholic school. (At least half the audience were certified Catholic school survivors.) It's an “interactive comedy,” involving a lot of audience participation and adroit improv on Donovan's part: she makes latecomers tell the crowd why they're late, takes candy away from people who're sneaking sweets during the show, makes examples of a few poor pupils who know, say, that Madonna's first child is named “Lourdes” but don't know what the Immaculate Conception is, and asks the kind of questions that non-Catholics (with no more acquaintance with Papists than a obscure memory of watching The Sound of Music when they were 10) would have little trouble answering.
It's all good-natured, in an Ohio potluck sort of way, with the jokes pitched somewhere in that strike zone called lower-middle brow. Here's one: “The Presbyterian Church is a spin-off of the Catholic Church. If the Catholic Church is Happy Days, the Presbyterian Church is Joannie Loves Chachi.” Here's another: “St. Thomas Aquinas was tempted. Oh, yes. A whore came into his tent one night and said, 'I've come to give you super sex.' Thomas replied, 'Well, then, I'll take the soup.'” And apropos of the story of the 12-year-old Jesus preaching in the temple and worrying his poor mom half to death because she didn't know where he was: “Why do you think that we don't hear from him till he was 30? Because he was grounded, that's why.” I sort of like that last one.
At one point, Donovan asked what we all knew about St. Theresa of Avila—mainly because the given or confirmed name of just about every woman she called on was named Theresa (or Mary, of course)—and I was kind of hoping that somebody would mention the plangent fact that St. Theresa's religious transports, as famously conveyed in her Autobiography, sound rather like the experience of a woman having a pretty good orgasm without knowing it, but then I remembered where Cathy Rigby's husband had set the moral bar for the evening and contented myself with learning which sisterly order St. Theresa was in, which I'd tell you now, only I wrote it down sloppily (venial sin) and now can't read my note. If there's overwhelming reader demand, I'll go to another show and report back next week.
There was also an almost-interesting moment when Donovan started taking questions and even prompted the audience by saying they could ask her “anything“—meaningful raising of eyebrows—”even if it's about the recent news” about the church. There was some small tittering and muttering, but if anybody was mustering their courage to ask even a softball question about the church-wide molestation scandals, they must have remembered Cathy Rigby's husband's moral bar-setting and thought better of ruining the show for those sensitive of ear. I myself considered mustering the courage for a full-on Situationist incursion but didn't finally because (a) I have trouble with Situationist ideology on a number of points, (b) Catholics are having a tough time as it is without a fallen one messing with their $38-per-seat theatrical comfort food, and (c) I am shy. No, I'm afraid I'm not the right guy to review this production. Should've taken that first hint and fled.
Late Night Catechism at La Mirada Theater for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, (714) 994-6150. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 N 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 N 7:30 p.m. Through Feb. 9. $33-38.