‘Late Night Catechism’ plays it too safe

At the risk of sounding like a cynical critic, does the world really need another show about a cutely strict Catholic nun barking dogma in her classroom? Entertainment Events Inc. apparently thinks so. Not only have they delivered us the current touring "Late Night Catechism" at The Smith Center, but they have seven other similar shows waiting in the wings.

What can I possibly say about this production that you can’t easily guess for yourself? Our sister is the boss, and the audience members are her pupils. She interacts with "students," taking gum from one, giving a prize to another, confronting tardy culprits, quizzing her charges about their knowledge of the faith (no surprise; a good hunk of the opening night audience seemed to be Catholics who knew their stuff).

Sample jokes:

"What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. What happens HERE goes on your permanent record."

"Vatican II turned the altar around so that the priest was facing the people like a cooking show."

"Do I see gum in your mouth? … Would Mary the Mother of God chew gum?"

"A venial sin is, I lied to my grandmother. Mortal sin? I killed her."

"Every time you act up, it’s like you’ve taken more straw out of the little baby Jesus’ manger."

When she demands a dollar from people who have come in late, she exclaims, "Now we can buy a pagan baby!"

When she finds out one student went to public school, she quips, "Too bad your parents didn’t care about you!"

The material (most of which was supplied by writers Maripat Donovan and Vicki Quade) is functional but familiar. I suppose it will hit the mark for some baby boomers who enjoy fondly looking back to their parochial school years.

Actress Nonie Newton-Breen, though, deserves a plenary indulgence for being the show’s redeemer. When she says she’s been a nun for 40 years, you believe it. You see the seen-it-all attitude, the proficiency in maintaining discipline with a firm but kind hand, the easy mastery of subject matter. Newton-Breen is both a first-rate comic and first-rate actress. She zings home scripted one-liners with the same authority that informs her off-the-cuff remarks. And she communicates a poignant sadness for the days gone by when the Catholic Church held a much more influential place in daily American life.

Having attended Catholic school in the ’50s and ’60s, I occasionally enjoyed the reminders of what it was like. But I found this an ultimately depressive evening. With the happy exception of Newton-Breen, it’s all about playing it safe, recycling old jokes, selling sequels.

By the way, for those dying to know, the follow-up titles are "’Sister Strikes Again," "Sister’s Christmas Catechism," "Till Death Do Us Part: Late Night Catechism 3," "Sister’s Easter Catechism," and "Late Night Catechism Las Vegas: Sister Rolls the Dice."

Capitalism: 1. Creativity: 0.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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