"Late Nite Catechism"
Long Wharf Theatre Stage II, New Haven
“Late Nite Catechism,” now on Long Wharf’s second stage, is clearly for, by, and about Catholics. As an outsider, this reviewer was often baffled and bored by inside references to religious ritual. But the audience (90 percent Catholic, according to raised hands) gave the appropriate answers, just as if they were back in church or Parochial grammar school. At the same time they were overcome by laughter, apparently recalling the strict, demanding nuns of their early school days.
Actress Denise Fennell plays that nun, it must be admitted, with great skill and a quick mind. She pulls the audience into her act, making the viewers willing accomplices-turned-into-schoolchildren. “Stand up! Hands out of your pockets!” she orders one silvered-haired gentleman. “I heard you two talking! Now pay attention! Listen up!” she tells two portly matrons.
The show, which has been traveling about the country and indeed the world, with various actresses, was written by Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan. Though they provide the basic material, Fennell is called upon to ad lib extensively, working her particular audience into the script. She remembers first names, catches her viewers misbehaving, and scolds them soundly. Watching audience members meekly replying, “Yes, Sister,” one is amazed how mesmerizing this experience is for Catholics (and possibly ex-Catholics), how they get into the spirit of the moment.
Fennell, a skinny little woman dressed in full nun’s attire, is a powerhouse, every inch the teaching nun of the old school. While keeping her class in order, she explains the term “stigmata” and asks which saints should be eliminated. Her asides are joltingly funny, as when she refers to her own third grade teacher. “She was so old I think she was one of the waitresses at the Last Supper,” she comments.
Fennell is a skilled master of improv theater techniques, albeit in the Catholic realm. But ultimately this is a one-joke show, with much repetition, and the two-hour fifteen-minute presentation runs much too long.
Not for the audience apparently, which appeared to love every moment, giving Fennell a strong standing ovation at the show’s close.
-- Irene Backalenick
July 21, 2006