By Colin Dabkowski
This nun can really work in a room.
Nonie Newton-Riley, the Second City-trained actress who stars in the Catholic-themed comedy “Late Nite Catechism 3: Til Death Do Us Part”, is not a real nun. But you wouldn’t know much from the visceral reactions from the throng of Catholic school alumni, non-practicing devotees, and weird pagans who attended the show’s opening at Shea’s Smith Theater.
Newton-Riley, who has played this role in various versions of the “Catechism” franchise for 17 years, has connected with the universal DNA of the regular disciplinarian. He’s a common figure, but familiar to generations of Catholics raised in Saturday catechism classes, slapped on the fingers with former leaders, or otherwise berated by women in what Newton-Riley has described as “50 gabardine books “.
This is the third installment in Maripat Donovan’s popular Late Nite Catechism series, which feeds on the nostalgia of aging Catholics yearning to remember their youth. Mix that with some gifted improv comic and a bit of borscht-belt humor and it’s hard to go wrong.
“Some of you are here because you are dating and are looking forward to the wedding,” Sister said at the start of the production. “Some of you are here because you are married and are anxiously awaiting death.”
From that point on, audiences are hooked as Newton-Riley puts on a very enjoyable night of interactive theater and improv comedy. She berates spectators for wearing baseball caps to the theater, for putting their hands in their pockets while answering questions – “Nothing good can come of this,” she cracks – and for being unable to remember the seven sacraments on top of their heads.