The image of nuns in habit dispensing both wisdom and discipline by banging rulers on pupils’ knuckles is an iconic image that elicits mostly humorous and fond memories from those who attended Catholic schools.
Yet since the Second Vatican Council’s modernization efforts of the Catholic Church in the 1960s and a decline in vocations in recent decades, many parochial schools are now run by lay people or by nuns who no longer carry ‘clothes. Those who wish to relive the days of yore while enjoying a healthy dose of laughter can head to the Sierra Madre Playhouse until October 1 for the play “Til Death Do Us Part: Late Nite Catechism 3.”
The show is one of six sequels to the 1993 play “Late Nite Catechism” by Maripat Donovan and Vicki Quade, in which a fictional Catholic nun takes the stage and interacts with the audience as if they were members of her class of religion.
This edition finds Sister having fun with the subjects of marriage and the last rites, but actress Aubrey Manning assures Catholics that it’s good humored and markedly different from the disrespectful tone of the notorious play “Sister Mary Ignatius Tells You Everything.” “.
“Since doing this show, I’ve been very aware of mean-spirited humor towards Catholics and religious people, so I’m very careful of people who try to make Catholicism and other religions the butt of jokes. “said Manning, who has played Sister for almost 20 years. “If you want me to lose my smile, make a joke about the relationship of priests with children. There’s no need to do that, and it alienates everyone.
The original ‘Catechism’ caused an instant sensation, with co-writer Maripat Donovan originating the role of Sister and being nominated for the Outer Critics Circle Award in New York for Outstanding Solo Performance. She also won the Los Angeles Drama Critic Circle Award for Best Solo Performance in 1999.
Manning herself attended Catholic schools while growing up in Richmond, Va., and is one of five actresses currently playing Sister in “Late Nite” productions nationwide. This training is essential, because while the show follows a “schedule” that outlines major topics with humorous lines, audience responses to questions are always unpredictable and require quick answers that are both fun and accurate.
“You never know what someone’s going to say and that’s the most fun part for me, so the more people I get on stage, the more fun I have,” explained Manning, who upholds the tradition of “Catechism” consisting of collecting donations for the care of retired nuns after each performance. “I see who gives funny answers in the first half and then brings two couples on stage in the second half to compete giving answers like the ‘newlywed game’, although it could be a couple during a first date, newlyweds or married people in their 60s.”
Landing the role of Sister changed Manning’s life dramatically, allowing her to focus on acting full-time after years of also working as a theater agent and casting director in Seattle, where she and her family worked. moved after the Northridge earthquake destroyed their Los Angeles home in 1994.
“When I first started doing the show, I shared the performances with the woman who was writing it and when I wasn’t on stage I was watching the audience, taking notes and recording everything,” Manning said. “I also studied the religions of the world, but I found that humor comes from finding the truth not only in religion but in everything in life.
“I never make fun of Catholicism or other religions or other people, but rather find what is humorous in a situation,” she continued. “If people find going to confession unusual because they’re not Catholic, I explain it to them. But sometimes it’s just funny to hear what people say.
“Til Death Do Us Part: Late Nite Catechism 3” opened at Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre at 8 p.m. on September 22 and runs through October 1. Tickets cost between $23 and $32. Call (626) 355-4318 or visit www.sierramadreplayhouse.org.