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‘Late Nite Catechism’ heads for the QTIP

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Enroll now for a front row seat at "Late Nite Catechism," the long-running, off-Broadway hit heading for a return engagement at Queens Theatre in the Park, Feb. 12-13.

The smash hit show, currently enjoying a third year of performances at St. Luke's Church in midtown Manhattan (West 46th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues), invites its audience members to brave an adult catechism class with an "old school" Chicago nun greatly in favor of reviving John F. Kennedy ("Our finest Catholic president .... all right, the only Catholic president), the Latin mass, and naming babies after saints.

In the role of the Sister, actress Patti Hannon is pure perfection, having inhabited the role these past two years in Chicago, Boston, and now, New York. At best, narrow-minded, and at worst, unapologetically autocratic, Hannon's Sister is consistently, hysterically funny because she takes the business of religion ever so seriously, forever eager to step in for a shiftless Father Murphy (reported AWOL due to a poker game.) The very heart of the humor in "Catechism" can be found in the jarring contrast between that in which Sister unstintingly believes vs. how much sense she actually makes. For instance, during her lesson, the Sister, with great confidence, explains away one of the greatest mysteries of the Bible: why there is no account of Jesus' whereabouts between the ages of 12 and 30. (Answer: he was grounded by his mother for ducking out on her to preach The Word in a temple.)

Having cut her teeth as an improvisational comedienne on the Windy City's many esteemed stages, Hannon knows exactly when to relinquish center stage and riff off the impromptu audience participation she solicits from her classroom. Throughout the evening's swift 90 minutes, Hannon scans her classroom for poor behavior, and with the discerning eyes of any self-respecting nun, she finds it. This results in several wonderful exchanges between the actress and her audience. Within minutes, audience members are begging her attention, uncertain as to whether they want to win a radioactive, glow-in-the-dark rosary or earn an admonishment from the stern nun. Whether or not Sister is pleased, she will leave you laughing and begging for more.

Another secret to "Catechism's" success is that while it is often sharply satirical, it is never mean-spirited. With her mania for completing sentences and her disdain for smart-aleck answers from her evening's charges, Sister is doubtlessly a force with which to be reckoned. Nonetheless, by the same token, she never crosses over into caricature. This is most likely because the playwrights, Maripat Donovan (who won an Outer Critics Circle award for originating the role onstage) and Vicki Quade, are themselves the end products of a Catholic school education. While they satirize their education at the hands of nuns on the one hand, on the other, they clearly cherish the memory of their respective brides of Christ. In fact, Quade, in the playbill, is quoted as to once having believed nuns were "the product of a dangerous liaison between humans and angels." Donovan and Quade's Sister couldn't agree more, expressing her deep-felt pity for audience members who did not receive the untold blessings of attending Catholic school: "It's too bad your parents didn't care for you, dear," the Sister remarks more than once in "Catechism" with straight-faced sincerity. Heaven knows how.

"Late Nite Catechism" will be performed at Queens Theatre in the Park on Sat., Feb. 12, at 8 p. m. and Sun., Feb. 13 at 3 p.m. Queens Theatre in the Park is located at Flushing Meadows Corona Park. For more information, call 760-0064.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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