"There are Protestants here. I can smell them," says Sister. "Just like a lion smells fear."
So begins Sister's Summer School Catechism: God Never Takes a Vacation, now at City Theatre.
For anyone from the generation that attended parochial school back in the day when nuns wielded rulers, this "summer school" will bring back many memories. As one older audience member said during the performance I attended, "You're opening a lot of old wounds, Sister."
To which Sister replied, "Let me get the salt."
Summer School Catechism is the latest installment in the wildly popular interactive series by playwright Maripat Donovan. When polled by Sister, the majority of the audience had already seen a "Catechism" show. Many had already seen this version!
School begins with Sister doling out tissues to any woman wearing a blouse too low or a skirt too high. Women with particularly plunging necklines are handed a lobster bib. One bare-shouldered woman at the matinee was given a "Terrible Towel" to drape over herself.
"Ladies, before you leave the house," Sister advises, "look at yourself in the mirror and ask, ‘Would the Blessed Mother leave the house in this outfit?'"
Then — once the chewing gum has been collected — summer school begins.
There is no formal script. It is up to actress Kimberly Richards, as Sister, to make the performance work. Richards has brilliant improvisational skills and truly engages the audience. Her quick wit and one-line zingers keep her "students" laughing for nearly two hours. During a question-and-answer period, she fields queries about her personal life with honest answers (such as that she was born in Pittsburgh) or with a curt "None of your business." Richards also shows a commanding knowledge of church history as well as Catholic doctrine. (And — in case you're wondering — Sister is crazy about the new Pope.)
Before the lesson is over, there is a slide show, a baseball game and prizes awarded.
To show how popular Sister is, she drew a sell-out crowd on the Steelers' opening day. And the audience had a rollicking good time.