The Hollywood Reporter called Late Nite Catechism a blend of "John Wayne drill sergeant and Julie Andrews singing her way through the Alps."
Mary Beth Burns calls it a loving tribute to those in the religious orders. "It pokes fun at growing up Catholic, particularly going to Catholic school, without being harsh or disrespectful."
Burns plays Sister in the one-woman show coming to the Valentine Theatre Saturday.
When Sister steps on stage, the theater becomes a classroom and the audience her class.
"It's a very interactive show," Burns said in a telephone interview from Chicago, where writers Maripat Donovan and Vicki Quade created Late Nite Catechism a dozen years ago. "There is a script, but it's more of a road map. At any point I will go off script and we just start improvising, which is so much fun to be able to do."
As Sister conducts a grade-school religion class and expounds on the lives of the saints, she may fine gum-chewers - if she collects enough fines, the class will be able to save a "pagan baby" - or set someone to cleaning erasers as discipline for talking in class or squirming.
At different points throughout the show, Burns said, Sister asks questions, and audience members will be called upon to answer. But they must do so properly, by standing up, addressing her as "Sister," and using complete sentences.
Burns says she isn't quite sure why such Catholic-themed shows as Nunsense, Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up, or even Over the Tavern, now showing at Ms. Rose's Dinner Theater, are so popular, but she suspects it's because everyone grew up Catholic, is a lapsed Catholic, or knows someone who is one or the other.
"I just did a five-month run with Late Nite Catechism in St. Louis, and we had people in the audience from all denominations - Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish. The show just really crosses all religious boundaries. Everybody can find something to identify with.
"It's fun as an actor to have this kind of a gig. It's really wonderful to be able to talk to the audience on the way out, and they share their stories, 'Oh you remind me of sister so and so' or 'I had this experience once.' It gets people very reminiscent."
But there are two sides to every story, and Burns said she gets to hear the teachers' point of view, too, because her audiences often include nuns.
"When I was in St. Louis, I was talking to I think it was Sister Carol. She was giving me her perspective of what it was like to teach in the 1950s. She said she was a young woman and she had never been in a classroom before, and she walked in and there were 60 students. She had 60 second graders in one class.
"From what I understand, [in those days] most of the classes had 50 to 60 students in them and she said we had to be strict because if one child started acting up, then the whole class would be up for grabs."
A former member of Chicago's Second City troupe, Burns says Late Nite Catechism is a perfect fit for her.
"I grew up Catholic, I remain a Catholic, I'm a teacher as well [Montessori preschool and kindergarten], I'm an Irish Catholic from Chicago, which is where Sister is from, and I have the theater and improv background."
Crazy things happened in parochial school in the pre-Vatican II era, and they probably still do, Burns said. "The thing that is so wonderful about Late Nite Catechism is that it pokes fun without being hurtful or cruel. It really is a silly kind of take on what it was like back then."
"Late Nite Catechism" is scheduled at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Valentine Theatre, 400 North Superior St. Tickets are $30 to $42. Information: 419-242-2787.
Contact Nanciann Cherry at: firstname.lastname@example.org