Archbishop's web site Denver Catholic Register Parishes Catholic Pastoral Center
March 6, 2002
One-nun show laughs with, not at the Church
`Late Night Catechism' opens March 8 at the Arvada Center
By Patrick Dorn
If actress Amanda Herbert needed a motto, a good one might be "Have nun, will travel." Herbert plays the character "Sister" in the national touring production of the uproarious comedy sensation "Late Nite Catechism," coming to the Denver area for 12 performances only, March 8-17 at the Arvada Center.
"After playing Sister for three years, I probably should join a convent," Herbert said.
Currently, Herbert is in New Orleans, but she has performed "Catechism" in more than 10 cities, including New York, Philadelphia, St. Paul, Detroit, Pensacola and San Antonio.
"Everywhere `Sister' goes, the audiences have a great time, Catholics and non-Catholics alike," she said.
"Late Nite Catechism" is the phenomenally successful one-nun show created by Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan in 1993. The mixture of scripted monologue, stand-up, and improv has run continuously in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and Los Angeles, and has been performed from Paris to Sydney. The comedy, which involves audience participation and interaction, features the irrepressible Sister as she teaches an adult catechism class to audience members.
"Sister has been teaching religion to second grade students for 30 years," Herbert says, "but now she is stuck teaching a captive audience of adults who have to attend the class because they're going to sponsor a baby for baptism, or because they are converting."
During the course of the evening, Sister waxes nostalgic about pre-Vatican II Catholicism, in the days when students behaved themselves and didn't wear miniskirts or chew gum in class.
"Sister forgets she is speaking to adults, but it doesn't matter, because the audience goes right back to their childhood again," Herbert said. Sister quizzes the audience on the basic tenets of Catholicism, passing out laminated saint cards and glow in the dark rosaries for correct answers, but only if they are given in complete sentences.
Sister has been described as a cross between a benevolent instructor and an authoritative drill sergeant.
"She's a staunch, strict nun, but she's also a funny, loving, caring person, and she loves her religion," Herbert said.
The comedy features Sister's quotable quips on the difference between "undercover nuns" and those who still wear habits, and what it's like to wear 20 pounds of gabardine in the middle of July.
Some of Sister's pet peeves include abandoning the Latin liturgy "so people could have `hootenanny' Masses," and common mistakes about what people think of the Immaculate Conception.
"Sister thinks the Immaculate Conception should be called the `Immaculate Misconception,' because so many people think it relates to the birth of Jesus, instead of Mary," Herbert said.
Don't get her started on turning the altar around, or women not wearing hats in church anymore, or papal infallibility.
"Of course the pope is infallible," Sister says, according to Herbert. "The only time you can challenge him is if you're playing Scrabble with him. Otherwise, whatever he says, goes."
Though there is an element of good-natured satire, "Late Nite Catechism" is very respectful of the faith, and has received glowing reviews from Catholic newspapers nationwide.
Herbert was recently hired by the Archdiocese of New Orleans to perform at a convention, and has frequently done "Late Nite Catechism" as a fundraiser for convents and Catholic schools.
"Every night I have priests and nuns who come to the show, and they love it," she said.
At the end of the show, Sister gives an impassioned speech about how important it is to support retirement funds for religious, and even takes up a collection. To date, "Late Nite Catechism" has donated more than $600,000 of after-show offerings to religious orders, including $58,625 to the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago, and $31,000 to the Sisters of Providence, Indiana.
"I collected $13,000 for the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio," Herbert said. "The audience thinks nothing of opening their wallets when I stand at the door with a bucket. It helps tie the show together, and they leave with something to remember."
As of press time, the Arvada Center had not yet made arrangements with religious orders in the Archdiocese of Denver to become donation recipients.
Performances for "Late Nite Catechism" are as follows: 7:30 p.m. March 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16; 4 p.m. March 9 and 16; 2 p.m. March 10 and 17; and 1 p.m. March 13. Tickets are $20-$26, and may be purchased by calling the Arvada Center box office at 303-431-3939 or online at www.arvadacenter.org.