No Question About It

Late Nite Catechism has all the right answers.

Late Nite Catechism Hanna Theatre, 2037 East 14th Street Open-ended run, 216-241-6000.

How many Catholics does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to change the bulb and a priest to hear him confess and give the old bulb last rites.

Ha ha.

That's Reader's Digest-style Catholic humor, something a senile bingo emcee might use for segue material. If you want the actual funny Catholic humor, hurry over to the Hanna Theatre. Sister (played brilliantly by Lisa Buscani) will not explain it all for you, but she will tread not-so-lightly on that fertile comic ground between religion's sublime and ridiculous. In said ground, you can bury a statue of St. Joseph to help sell your home, but, as Sister will assure you, not even Joe can help you if you've failed to update your kitchen and bathrooms. You don't have to be a devout Catholic to appreciate Late Nite Catechism, or have survived the wrath of a wound-too-tight nun. This is a hip sis, who has learned the error of her ruler-cracking ways.

Part soliloquy, part improvologue, Catechism is set in an adult catechism class and begins, endearingly, with Sister announcing to her students of all religions, persuasions, and philosophies, "I know you don't want to be here." More playwrights should approach their audiences this way: as though they were reluctant liturgy students hoping for a transcendent experience, but fearing didacticism.

Like Tony 'n Tina's Wedding, which preceded it at the Hanna, Catechism doesn't just take audiences along for the ride; it lets them steer a little too. Some of the giddiest opening-night moments came from Buscani's interactions with the audience: A couple of chatty females had to be separated; a gentleman warned against public displays of affection had to remove his arm from a seat back. The audience gets to participate in some Q&A as well. And for good students who answer Sister's questions correctly, the fun nun has a delightful assortment of Catholic tchotchkes, from glow-in-the-dark rosary beads to saint cards ("the baseball cards of the church").

Buscani, an Ohio native, has mastered that lumbering walk of nuns of a certain age (which at this point, let's face it, is all of them) and the sorry-can't-hear-you hand-to-the-ear gesture. She's also got the quicksilver-fast and fluid thought process that's necessary in the moments where the play incorporates improv. Of course, Catechism has been around awhile: It began in Chicago in 1993, the brainchild of writer Vicki Quade and actress Maripat Donovan, who originated the role of Sister. In other words, this may not have been the first time a scantily dressed female audience member has asked, "What's a mortal sin?" and gotten Sister's response: "That skirt." But so what?

Catechism is one of those rare and wonderful belly-laugh comedies -- as opposed to the all-too-common smile-serenely-and-nod-in-recognition variety. Halfway through, you'll be thinking of who to tell about it and wishing you knew a posse of beer-drinking ex-nuns who'd go with you to see it again.

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