Thursday, February 19, 2004

'Catechism' a holy hoot

Actress repeatedly lands kindly jabs to familiar material

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Late Nite Catechism has been running off-Broadway for a decade, so of course it's a crowd-pleaser. I suspect it could play Cincinnati for 10 years, too.

Unfortunately you have only this week to see it, a Fifth Third Bank off-Broadway in Cincinnati offering in the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater.

Catechism is an interactive comedy - that is, the audience is very much a part of the act. The concept is that we are an adult catechism class in an elementary classroom - the stage has the requisite blackboard, the block-letter alphabet, the globe, the statue of the Virgin Mary - yes, it looks exactly like first grade at St. Ignatius.

For a show like this to work, you need a first-rate improv performer who can use the savvy script (by Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan) as a foundation for flights of high comedy with hapless volunteers from the audience. It has that in Kathy Cogan, who earns her title of "Sister" - I think she'll make Reverend Mother by the end of the run.

And you need an audience from which that performer can mine some nuggets of comedy gold. At Tuesday's opening night, Kathy Cogan hit the mother lode.

It's a well-known fact that Cincinnati is a Catholic town. It turns out to be a town of exceptionally good Catholics.

Volunteers - all girls, by the way (maybe girls are more easily lured by bribes or less easily embarrassed) - were acing her tricky questions. At least I thought they were tricky. A lot of people were even wise to burying St. Joseph to sell your house. Who knew?

Catechism is very much a walk down memory lane for baby boomers who remember the days before Vatican II.

It's a spoof, not a satire, and it's the warm affection with which it regards its subject that makes the show work. It doesn't hurt that the show's creators have a sure sense of what's downright hilarious about the old-time religion. (There was a patron saint of pole-sitters?)

Cogan is marvelous, hitting just the right notes - jovial but firm ("Stand up when you talk to Sister!"), and brooking no nonsense, except that which she orchestrates.

Catechism is Broadway in Cincinnati's first foray into an off-Broadway series and, happily, it's a bona fide hit.

Here's hoping we see plenty more where this came from.

Late Nite Catechism, through Sunday, Aronoff Center Jarson-Kaplan Theater, 241-7469.


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