Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


The Late Nite Catechism series is a nineteen-year-old Chicago-born institution that has been adamantly adopted nationwide. Not only has the show employed and cultivated a formidable bullpen of actor/improvisers to bring Sister to the masses, but many Sisters can perform more than one of its several editions at will. To wit, fresh off her run in Sister's Christmas Catechism at the Century Theatre, Mary Zentmyer has taken up residence at the adjacent Gem Theatre for a romantically themed lesson in Maripat Donovan's 'Til Death Do Us Part: Late Nite Catechism 3. That's some parlor trick, and the current production makes for a welcome extension of Zentmyer's stay in Detroit.

Ingeniously, this Sister manages to feel authentic without buying into the trope that nuns are comic by virtue of being humorless. The character is indeed strict, whipping out hankies to force modesty on female audience members and deftly coaching the audience to respond in unison with the proper obedience due a schoolteacher. Yet Zentmyer also delights in her work, getting a kick out of her own corny jokes and reacting generously when something funny occurs. Clearly an old hand at the scripted beats of the show, she's comfortable indulging in some small tangents, and viewers who watch closely may glimpse the split-second thought process in which she invents razor-sharp zingers about the strangest audience responses.

Indeed, audience participation is as important as ever to this show, as Sister doles out her usual prizes to audience volunteers who correctly stumble through the answers to her catechism questions. In addition to the love-and-marriage theme of the present iteration, some early discussion and speculation about extraterrestrial life and its place in the Catholic church feels rocky, like new material that still needs refinement. Throwaway anecdotes regarding eccentric, eBay-listed, Jesus-shaped religious nuttery aren't as comfortably snappy as the more familiar (and official) church doctrine, like the sacrament of marriage. Quizzing couples in the audiences about their histories quite often turns up comic gold in Zentmyers's capable hands, and the everyday relatability of Sister's timeline of a Catholic marriage gets big responses from an audience full of groups and theatergoing couples. The second act is devoted entirely to audience participation, with a contest cribbed from The Newlywed Game, which Sister conducts with a blazing sense of pacing. The brief second act is the right length for what it is, and especially beneficial because it allows Zentmyer's largely solo work in the first act to go on longer, giving the viewer a full two hours' worth of mirth.

Designers Scot Cleaveland and Neil Koivu revive the set and lights, respectively, of the tidy and prayerful elementary-school classroom in which the series forever resides. Andrea Kannon, admittedly not given a lot of options for wardrobe, has fun with some great low-budget properties for the game in the second act. It's a fine standard backdrop for the cheeky, polished 'Til Death Do Us Part; couples as well as singles considering a Late Nite Catechism outing for a night of laughs should have fun with Zentmyer's Sister — to be sure, she'll be having fun with them.


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