In hockey, three goals scored by an individual player during the course of a game is called a hat trick. I haven’t a clue what you call a theater that produces three plays in a row based on the same character – except for maybe “brave.” But that’s what the folks at Detroit’s Gem Theatre scheduled this season, beginning last November with the Christmas-themed version of the popular “Late Night Catechism” series. Then came “Late Night Catechism 3: ‘Til Death Do Us Part,” which closed March 6. And only days later the newest chapter in the “sister series” opened, “Sister’s Easter Catechism: Will My Bunny Go To Heaven?,” which premiered simultaneously in theaters across the county.
So have we reached the saturation point, you might be asking yourself? Is too much of the good Sister too much of a heavenly thing?
Box office tallies will make the final determination, of course. But if the result depends on quality alone, then the correct response is a resounding “no” – thanks to another sharp script by creator Maripat Donovan (with Marc Sylvia) and a fine and laugh-filled performance by Nonie Breen.
The formula remains pretty much the same. (Why break with success, right?) Sister is there to teach yet another adult catechism class, the subject of which is the Easter season. The first act is primarily a stand-up comedy act, with some audience interaction to keep things lively. Then, after intermission, Sister leads a question-and-answer session about the Catholic faith, followed by a series of games to test your knowledge of Catholicism played by audience members chosen by Sister.
While “Sister’s Easter Catechism” features many of the moments regular attendees love about the series – such as Sister’s response to a ringing cell phone, or her reaction to low-cut blouses – the subject matter is fresh, and Donovan’s script is razor sharp. And to be honest, if traditional catechism classes were this fun and informative, conversions to Catholicism would be at an all-time high!
But slick material isn’t enough to make this show succeed. Luckily, Donovan’s baby is in the hands of an experienced “Sister” who excels as a stand-up comic, knows how to handle a crowd with a disarming charm, and seems like a genuine nun from the pre-Vatican II days of Catholic school education. But don’t let her Droopy Dog-like expression fool you: Breen had the audience laughing throughout the night – whether it was joking about Lutherans and Southern Baptists or explaining the best way to get rid of Jehovah’s Witnesses at your door.
The show’s only rough spot occurred during the second act. The Q-and-A lasted a little too long, and Breen had to work with game show contestants who weren’t the most responsive. (Three separate games, one of which had 10 questions, is probably a bit much – especially with different players for each. In fact, I suspect Breen may have dropped a few questions from one of the games to keep the show moving. I didn’t keep count, however, so I could be wrong about that!)
So if you ever wondered about the church calendar, Mary Magdalene’s background or are curious whether or not you’ll bump into Fido in Heaven – or if you simply want to laugh a lot – spend some time this Easter season with Sister at The Gem Theatre! Just don’t have a steak dinner beforehand if you attend on a Friday night! (Sister will explain why, if you don’t already know!)
‘Sister’s Easter Catechism: Will My Bunny Go To Heaven?’
The Gem Theatre, 333 Madison St., Detroit. Wednesday-Sunday through April 17. $19.50-$34.50. 313-963-9800. http://www.gemtheatre.com