Nuns aren’t known for their ebullience. Donning the habit normally means taking the rosy out of the rosary. So what’s Patti Hannon doing acting pleasant?
Credit the fact that Thursday night saw Hannon’s debut of Maripat Donovan’s "Late Nite Catechism II," a follow-up for the show Hannon has been running at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts for a Valley-record four years.
The chance to try out new material — Sister leads a class not on saints, like the first, but on a much more delicious topic: Sins — caused Hannon to kick off opening night in a jovial mood, grinning from behind the penguin garb. She opened with a talk show-worthy monologue dealing with everything from weeping statues of the Virgin Mary (call the plumbers, she said) to political gags about John Kerry and the Scottsdale mayoral race (Who gets the Catholic vote? Mary Manross).
But before the packed playhouse could wonder what happened to dear, harsh Sister — had the Don Rickles of papal insult comedy swallowed a Paxil before class? — Hannon caught sight of a gum-chewer in the front row.
"You’re chewing like Betsy the Cow," she said, descending from the stage to confiscate the woman’s pack of Juicy Fruit.
Sister was back.
Before long, she was doing her usual hilarious shtick, calling on audience members and chastising them — "Thank you, Sister, for taking an interest in me," she made them repeat — when not dishing out a fresh lesson on what it takes to get to Heaven, and why some of us are going somewhere slightly southward.
(We non-Catholics needn’t worry, though. People of other faiths, Sister said, will also get access to God’s crib. Only, "Heaven has many rooms," she added. "Yours will be near the elevator and ice machine.")
"Catechism II," subdubbed "Sometimes we feel guilty because we are guilty," offers a few new tricks for Sister’s arsenal. In the second act, she runs a Catholic educational filmstrip and riffs on it like Dennis Miller. Later, she discusses modern-day sins as yet unaddressed by the Vatican (road rage, sure; showing your boxer shorts above your pants, OK. But who knew watching reality TV was a venial sin?). And, in a move sure to tingle the spine of any Sunday school veteran, she illustrates the path of sin and redemption using felt cutouts.
"Nothing," Sister said, "inspires like felt."
In some ways, playwright Donovan has crafted "Catechism II" with a closer eye to Catholic audiences. Some of the jokes run a little more "inside." But overall, the show is a worthy successor and wonderfully secular-friendly. Authority figures like Sister — the wooden ruler looming in the background — are a universal theme.
And though there’s plenty of irony (or masochism) in paying good money to subject yourself to a nun’s abuse — "We," Sister says, "invented shock and awe" — there’s no better way to have your funny bone blessed than to catch
the new "Catechism."