The funniest summer class is at Stages Repertory Theatre this year. Anyone who enrolls in “Summer School Catechism: God Never Takes a Vacation” with Denise Fennell is sure to learn how to laugh at themselves.
In a part-scripted, part-improv show, a religious sister teaches the Catechism or principles of the Roman Catholic Church. Each performance of “Summer School Catechism…” can be completely different based on the day and the different class of students. While Sister has a set of scenarios, as in, if X happens then do and say Y, the performance takes its shape in the moment as Fennell improvises.
“There is a script, there is a class, there is a curriculum,” said Director Marc Silvia. “But at any moment, anything can happen.”
Whenever you attend any live show, you are witnessing a performance that will never be repeated in exactly the same way again. This is especially true when the script isn’t written yet like in “Summer School Catechism…” This show is a vivid reminder that live theater is a very transitory art form. Other arts like paintings, sculptures and poetry don’t change once the paint dries or the words are printed. However, theater never stays the same.
Although it’s a one-woman show, the room is full of characters because Sister Fennell draws the audience to actively participate in class. Stages Theatre’s small and intimate performance space makes a perfect summertime classroom. Fennell takes control of her “classroom” and aims to touch every one of her “students.” Sister Fennell sees everyone and everything in the audience and will draw you into the show. I have never felt so connected to a show or to other audience members. Fennell is the perfect Sister for the stage.
The “Late Nite Catechism” series was originally written by Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan, and became one of the longest-running shows in Chicago history after its debut in 1993. Since then, it has been presented in 410 cities around the world. Fennell is back by popular demand at Stages because she has performed in previous catechism classes taught in the theater off Allen Parkway. This summer is the first time this particular installment of Nite Catechism has been seen by Houston audiences.
I’m Catholic, and I didn’t feel that this show mocks the faith or the religious orders at all. Fennell is neither mean-spirited nor satirical. It also supports religious sisters. Since the show was first produced, it has raised over $4 million for a variety of Retired Sisters and Catholic organizations. The evening I attended, there were two real-life religious sisters in the front row. There were also plenty of non-Catholics enjoying the show when I attended, Sister welcomes all.
“Summer School Catechism: God Never Takes a Vacation” is playing at Stages Repertory Theatre through September 9. Tickets start at $25.