Currently, Sister has transformed Le Chat Noir Cabaret Theater into a classroom for Late Nite Catechism II (by Maripat Donovan). Examples of letters from the alphabet in cursive lettering line the walls. There's a smattering of saintly statues, displaying their sacred hearts. Scrawled in chalk on the green board is the topic of the day: penance. You'd expect her class to be filled with fourth graders. But no, this is an adult catechism class. Well, sort of. In the ferocious presence of this implacable nun, we the students (i.e. the audience) regress to our earlier and truer selves.
Regressing is part of the fun. Like the original Late Nite Catechism (also by Donovan), which ran for four years at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carr, this show is an interactive comedy. A cabaret setting is perfect; in fact, it verges on the pluperfect. People in this relaxed, party-like atmosphere, with a bit of hooch in their bellies, not only regress to the preadolescents they were, but the preadolescent they wish they had been: the class wise guy. Still and all, Sister dominates and gives as good as she gets. When she enters through the audience, she starts with a scold: "All right, everybody simmer down!"
If you're tempted to mouth off, you better make sure you couch your sally as a complete sentence, with the compulsory "Sister" included as a sign of respect. After all, you're dealing with a seasoned veteran. Hebert was so effective as a holy disciplinarian in the first show that the national company sent her off on a tour of more than 156 cities.
Whether or not she teaches you to read, write, do math and make Jesus your personal savior (which are her stated goals), she will have you roaring with laughter. She has a variety of audiovisual aids to help you along the straight and narrow path. For instance, there is the Catholic board game of Chutes And Ladders. That's ladders, baby, not elevators. Getting to heaven takes effort. Sliding down to eternal damnation, on the contrary, is a breeze.
Sister, like any good drill sergeant, knows that students must sense a glimmer of affection beneath the "shock-and-awe" exterior. She encourages her charges with little presents, like pins to wear or glow-in-the-dark plastic saints.
Some of the exchanges were more or less logical. When Sister asked, "All right, class, what do you think heaven will be like?" The answers were "Hot fudge sundaes and no humidity" and "No hurricanes!"
But sometimes things took a dive into the bizarre, like the announcement that Limbo had been reopened for unbaptised babies and Aborigines. Then there was the story about a missionary to the Iroquois. The Iroquois chewed off three of his fingers. Furthermore (and I admit I was a bit in my cups), I believe Sister informed us that God gave Jesus a choice: he could be crucified or stung to death by bees. Sister was greatly relieved that Jesus had chosen crucifixion, because that gave Catholics the elegant gesture of crossing themselves. Just imagine if he had chosen the bee option and Catholics would have had to make a buzzing sound and swat at an imaginary swarm.
As you can see from these examples, Late Nite Catechism II doesn't get stuck in any conventional rut. Sister keeps things lively by provoking thoughts and laughter all at once: "All right, class, who's in hell?" she asked. Although the students-audience shouted out answers, Sister ignored them and -- in the best tradition of catechism -- answered her own question: "Satan and Frank Sinatra."
Next, she divulged a list of new sins for the new millennium. Among them were transgressions like "dining at Hooters," "wearing your underwear as clothing" and "excessive tattoos or body piercings."
"What's excessive?" someone asked.
"Uh, uh, uh, what's excessive, Sister?" the nun prompted her interlocutor.
"What's excessive, Sister?" the questioner repeated, adding the correct manner of address.
Pleased with this progress in courtesy, Sister beamed. "One," she answered, with a growl.
Late Nite Catechism II plays ingeniously with Catholic nostalgia and satire, but it also careens into a hellzapoppin' nuttiness. This nonsensical no-nonsense nun could burst into a Marx Brothers' movie and fit right in. I enjoyed her immensely.