Q. When is a play not a play?
A. When it is an extended schtick plumped up with formulaic ad-libs and a smattering of scripted material that is either dated or just boring.
That’s why the laboriously titled play (see above) now at PlayhouseSquare's 14th Street Theatre is not really a play. This is the third iteration of these Catholic drolleries, assembled somewhat haphazardly by Maripat Donavan, each featuring a nun with a habit for schoolmarm-ish put downs.
Structured as a catechism class, the Sister touches on the seven sacraments, with a particular emphasis this time around on marriage and the reward that awaits (good Catholics) after they tip over. The scripted part of the show also throws in some oddball references to space exploration and some alien nonsense.
To cut to the chase, the only way these shows work is if the single performer playing the Sister can brook no nonsense, playfully, as she gently jabs and prods the audience members who are her “students.”
Even when you know that most of her ad-libs are ones she has recycled from many previous performances, Mary Zentmyer manages to keep the two-hour class bubbling with fun. Raising an eyebrow at one young woman who has been engaged for two years, Sister observes, “You’re burning up your pretty time, dear.”
Constantly correcting her charges for not responding in complete sentences, not addressing her as Sister, and for chewing gum (the culprit had to put the wad on her nose), Zentmyer is in complete control.
It all wraps up with a Newlywed Game-style contest between two couples that have to match each other’s answers. And as predictable as that sounds, hilarity really does ensue.
So if you’re in the mood for a completely undemanding evening of smiles and laughs—and maybe a little humiliation if you’re picked to participate—this show is, as always, heaven sent.
‘Til Death Do Us Part: Late Nite Catechism 3
Through March 28 at the 14th Street Theatre,
PlayhouseSquare, 2037 E. 14 Street,