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Nuns and comedy meet at the Community Arts Center in holiday music show

December 14, 2007
By JACK FELIX - Sun-Gazette Correspondent
Never underestimate the humor of the nun or her ecumenical appeal.

Case in point is “Sisters Christmas Catechism,” which proved to the large Community Arts Center audience last Saturday night to be a sinfully funny alternative to traditional holiday fare.

For the last 30 years, playwrights and lyricists have turned to the nunnery as a source for inspiration. “Nunsense” started the wave of religious fun. The habit-forming musical was followed by a lame sequel, “Nunsense II: The Second Coming,” a spin-off “Sister Mary Amnesia’s Country Western Jamboree,” and a Christmas attraction, “Nuncrackers.”

Other one-woman shows have sprung up with varying success, including “Sister Mary Ignatius Tells It All” and in recent years, “Late Night Catechism,” which Rob Steele booked into the CAC last year, and which played at Wilkes-Barre’s F.M. Kirby Center last month.

This version, written by Maripat Donovan, who originated the role of Sister in the original, features Jocelyn Wright, who runs an adult catechism class for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. (After a show of hands, Sister calculated about half of her “class” were Catholic.)

Not only does Wright display knowledge of Catholic doctrine and dogma but a witty insight into attending catholic school.

Set in her portable classroom with blackboard, desk and chairs, Sister’s class plan is to solve an age-old mystery: what happened to the gold that Magi brought to Bethlehem?

Saturday night’s show began with a quartet of Jacquie Engel, Brian Mextorf, Jacqueline Gilbert and Michael Conner singing traditional Christmas carols but incurring Sister’s wrath when they finished their segment with the secular “Jingle Bells.”

Although Sister quickly forgave the singers for their indiscretion, she did not so easily forgive latecomers, extracting a dollar, no doubt for the Marynoll Missions, for their tardiness.

The first half had Sister describing the Nativity scene with her own take on the Holy family. After intermission, Jocelyn Wright showed a sharp improvisational style luring audience members onto the stage to be part of the living Nativity. Surprisingly to me, most came forward without much cajoling. The discarded clothing collection of curtains, sheets and headbands turned everyone from Joseph and Mary, the shepherds and Magi, to the Little Drummer Boy and the animals (the ox and as Sister called it, “my ass”) into hootable participants.

Sister (no last name) then proceeded with a forensics examination of Mary and Joseph’s Housing using the CSI-related MOP technique: That’s motive, technique, opportunity and proximity to the gold in the manger. After a line-by-line analysis of a favorite Christmas carol, an unlikely suspect is fingered and the mystery solved.

Fast moving over its almost two hours running time, the script features no penguin jokes, and only a few retreads: “If the Magi were women, they would have stopped for directions, arrived on time and brought something practical like a casserole.” The funniest line has Mary responding to why she looks so sad in all the Nativity depictions: “You know, secretly I was hoping for a girl.”

Bypassing “Late Night Catechism II” in favor of “Sister’s Christmas Catechism” proved to be funny and often hilarious holiday fare.

Great interplay and side comments made “Sister’s Catechism Class” rollicking for everyone, although I suspect that parochial students might rollick just a bit more.

No failing marks for this catechism class, which left after sharing lots of smiles, smirks and even some belly laughs. The final grade for “Sister’s Christmas Catechism” class is “O” as in Oh, Joy!



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