Hark, the herald angel
by Michael Dresdner
Shh! Better be quiet and sit down! Sister is in the house.
Yes, go ahead and rejoice, because Centerstage has brought Sister’s Christmas Catechism, the seasonal version of the deservedly popular Late Night Catechism, to its stage. And yes, it is every bit as hilarious, entertaining, and flat-out delightful as its, ahem… “sister” show.
You have not seen any of the Catechism series? Shame on you. Ok, sit up straight, hands in your lap, and I’ll explain what you’ve missed.
Sister is delightfully portrayed by Nonie Newton-Breen, a smart, sassy, schoolmarm in nun’s garb who transforms the theater into a Catholic classroom and the audience into her highly interactive class. Weaving a wealth of real and fascinating canonical history into a non-stop barrage of humor and faux cynicism, she finds willing victims in the audience to harass, reward and involve. The upshot is that everyone feels like part of the festivities (a few more than others) and we all have a wonderful time.
Catholics get to relive their childhood experiences through a veil of spot-on humor, which I am sure is as cathartic as it is rib-tickling. Non-Catholics get the joy of peeking behind the veil of a world both strange and frequently lampooned. Either way, it is a win-win.
Sister used the period before recess (or intermission, if you insist on calling it the first act) to locate her best victims and get everyone both laughing and caught up on the history of Christmas and Saint Nick. There were prizes for right answers and withering gibes for those who fell short of her high standards.
After recess, she set up a Nativity play. Using bags of often garish and always cleverly chosen thrift shop finds, she dressed a Joseph, a Mary, three Magi, a drummer boy, a shepherd, an ass, an ox, a sheep, and a small, halo-graced angel crafted from a child in the audience.
The sheep, for instance, was convincingly decked out in a white fuzzy throw rug, a matching toilet seat cover hat with office clip ears, black socks on her arms, and a black cup clenched in her teeth for a snout. Magi sported everything from table runners and brocade slip covers to a clever hat made of a blender cozy.
Watching her dress her audience assistants, and seeing their reactions, was a show in itself, but that wasn’t enough. She then had them go through the motions, accompanied by song and story, to recreate a living nativity scene, and ultimately solve the mystery of the missing Magi gold. The music, which Sister also controlled with an iron hand, came from an on-stage barbershop quartet in matching outfits made up, apparently, of people who just happened to be in the audience.
Every minute of the evening was joyous, hilarious, and captivating, thanks in small part to a good-natured audience, but mostly to Newton- Breen’s considerable skill.
In short, Sister’s Christmas Catechism is an absolutely delightful way to spend an evening. Now, here are the dates of future shows in which you can indulge, so pay attention; there will be rewards in heaven for those who get the answers right.
Sister’s Christmas Catechism
Dec. 5 through Dec. 22, 2012