“The minute you see a nun on the stage, it’s a stereotype,” warns actress and comedian Maripat Donovan. “It’s the habit.”
Audiences at the Broward Center won’t be getting another Nunsense or Sister Act or even The Flying Nun, Sister Petril, when they take their seats in the Amaturo Theatre for Late Night Catechism: Las Vegas Sister Rolls the Dice! on Saturday and Sunday.
Instead, the show—the sixth in a series—is a tongue-in-cheek look at Catholic culture.
“Nuns are often portrayed as people who are ignorant to the world, when the reality is nuns not only take care of themselves, they take care of all of us,” explains Donovan. “They educate children, they’re presidents of universities and heads of hospitals. Nuns are responsible for building so much in our country.”
Donovan, who has been performing since she was 15 years old, staged her first show more than two decades ago, and claimed the record for the longest running one-woman Off-Broadway show.
She would also argue that the Late Night Catechism series is more than theater, but an interactive experience as the sole character, “Sister,” converses with the audience and even is pressed to answer some pretty challenging theological questions.
Donovan, as well as the actresses who have donned their habits to play Sister (Kim Richards will be performing in Fort Lauderdale), must have strong religious backgrounds because audiences “can tell if you’re faking. They will try to pump you for information.” Although, she’s also quick to point out that it’s against the law to discriminate against actresses who aren’t Catholic. “It just helps.”
In this sequel, Sister is holding a casino night to raise money for the parish. She demonstrates some Vegas style magic tricks and even deals a few hands of blackjack in the second act. Other “Catechism” productions have explored themes such as Christmas and Easter and the sacraments of Marriage, Penance and even Last Rites.
Growing up in heavily Catholic Chicago certainly prepared Donovan to write and perform the role of Sister, but she only briefly considered becoming a nun.
“All Catholic girls consider being nuns,” she says, with a pause, “when they’re seven. They’re like superheroes. They have these outfits, maybe fly, you don’t know. Maybe they’re angels, they’re kind of mysterious….when I was a girl, you couldn’t be a fireman or a policeman, so what did you do?”
Donovan decided she would rather have a boyfriend and eventually marry, but that didn’t diminish her appreciation for the nuns who influenced her childhood years.
“Sister is definitely me, if I had become a nun,” she says.
Over the years, audiences for “Late Night Catechism” have mirrored traditional theater demographics, what Donovan calls “women ages 35 to death….and sometimes they’ll drag their husbands with them.”
But Late Night Catechism is not the show for someone who has personal issues with the church, she warns.
“If you are one of those people, we’re not there to bash the Catholic Church or make fun of religion,” she says. “It’s not a cloying thing about God or Jesus. We’re talking about being Catholic as a cultural experience. There is some doctrine that Sister teaches.”
Instead, audiences celebrate their common identity and faith, along with plenty of laughs with Sister.
Late Night Catechism: Las Vegas Sister Rolls the Dice!
Starring Kim Richards
Saturday, August 4, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, August 5, 4 p.m.
Amaturo Theatre, Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Fort Lauderdale
Tickets $35 at BrowardCenter.org or 954-462-0222