Back in the Habit
School is back in session with this successor to ‘Catechism’
By Terry Loncaric
Kane County Chronicle & Northwest Herald
Like its predecessor "Late Nite Catechism," "Put the Nuns in Charge" is a tongue-in-cheek romp through the world of sins, saints, and strange nun lore.
A new nun is back wearing more black than Johnny Cash would ever have mustered, swinging her "18 inches of wood" (nun jargon for a ruler), and landing on her kids (audience members!) like a cross between a drill sergeant and a benevolent, big sister.
In this high-spirited sequel, playwright Vicki Quade has created a slightly less nostalgic but equally endearing in-your-face Catechism lesson that keeps everyone on their toes, trying to see if they can answer her tough questions, and dodge her ominous weapon of destruction -- that gigantic ruler!
A friend of mine had on a blouse that showed some cleavage, and she was asked to come up on stage. The nun covered my blushing companion with a handkerchief, blessed, of course, by a priest. But that wasn't the end of the scolding. Throughout the show, the handkerchief fell, and she kept reminding my friend, "Cover those holy hills!"
One woman and her mother guzzled beer at a show with a nun. What could they have been possibly thinking? Of course, they were razzed relentlessly. But they were a little in the bag, anyway, so I don't think it actually mattered.
Of course, what makes this show so funny is Mother Superior's authoritarian presence, fueled by Kathleen Puls Andrade's sharp comedic aim, and her knack for zapping "easy targets" in the audience with her caustic, improvised humor. This nun is not only quick on her feet; she seems to have eyeballs in back of her head!
The show is not about ridicule, though. Its premise is having fun, and taking liberties with some of the stranger aspects of Catholic ritual that beg over-the-top treatment.
Andrade is sharp, funny, and bossy as a nun who reluctantly steps into modern times, but still feels the need to keep everyone in line with her convoluted moral lessons, her light-hearted pop culture references, and her own brand of edgy, sarcastic humor. Sister Kathleen slaps on those thick-soled combat boots, and instantly becomes Atilla the Nun -- every stern nun who ever tried to bust a kid's chops for stepping out of line.
Andrade plays up the show's campier moments, too, with perfect comedic aplomb.
Andrade ruminates over the Seven Deadly Sins, and delights in telling weird stories designed to tug at our moral sense of guilt, even if we were never raised Catholic. Her response to gluttony is pragmatic and wise. "All-you-can-eat, at a buffet," She sternly reminds us, "is an option, not a requirement." I also liked her description of Mother Angelica as "The Rush Limbaugh of nuns." Mother A is extreme. So is Rush. Mother Superior hit the bullseye.
"Put the Nuns in Charge" is a delightful streams-of-conscious romp -- a nun's own private talk show, served with more winks and nudges than genuine theological substance. But the premise of the jokes is all-too-real, so it resonates convincingly with audiences.
Mother Superior talks about the Saints, at least the obscure ones! She hands out a Get-Out-of-Purgatory Free Card. She talks us all into singing "Kumbaya," a very strange folk song, that, for some reason, all grade school nuns loved singing. She also pretends she is an action hero, an excuse, I suppose to show us she can do karate kicks in all of those layers of clothing. Only a nun could manage that!
Clearly, the show is more about silliness than theological lessons. The pieces of this lesson don't exactly fit into a cohesive story, but if you want to have a good time with a nun who will bust you in the chops if you start slacking off in class, then step right into this nun's wacky little universe.
But watch those holy hills!