“Late Nite Catechism” opened Wednesday to a large, delighted audience at the Johnny Carson Theater at the Lied Center for Performing Arts.
Chicago-based actress Mary Zentmyer has maintained a reassuring check on the one-woman comedy goldmine that depends on audience participation for much of its zing. Time has honed the power of the material to deliver and Zentmyer’s experience and skill give it a vivid authenticity.
The premise is that the public has gathered for St. Bruno’s adult catechism, taught at night by a sensible nun, referred to only as “sister”, who has seen it all. A simple scene is composed to look like what my Catholic friend who attends school called her third grade class. Introducing herself, Sister explains that she taught religion to Catholic children “through six popes.” She remembers a bit of the very good old days of the early baby boom, when it was just a room with “52 kids and me”.
Among the many tunes that kept the evening lively and the comedy varied, Sister threw “chiclet control” at the audience, having a grown man spit gum and wear it on his nose from the first act through intermission. . Towards the end of the show, Sister called him to receive an award and a prayer card, to hearty laughter and applause from the audience.
The humor is mild and slightly more meaningful to those who have attended Catholic schools than to those who have not. I found myself asking my friend at intermission about some of the jokes and finding out that I either completely missed them or misinterpreted them because I was an “audience” (I went to public school ) and that I had raised a Protestant. In fact, I learned some real dogma from the catechism lesson, even played for laughs.
“Late Nite Catechism” by Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan is one of many Chicago-themed satirical shows that sprung up, hit the spot, and ran and ran and ran. But he has been in continuous performance since 1993 – 24 years. It is described as the longest-running show of its type in off-Broadway history. With limited casting and stage requirements, the comedy is ideal for booking at a variety of roadside venues, including, according to its own online publicity, a variety of churches, where it is used to raise funds.
Get the latest local entertainment news delivered to your inbox every week!