BWW Review: SISTER'S BACK TO SCHOOL CATECHISM Is A Hilarious Habit At Stages Repertory Theatre
There's something mysterious about Denise Fennell, who is starring at STAGES REPERTORY THEATRE in SISTER'S BACK TO SCHOOL CATECHISM: THE HOLY GHOST AND OTHER TERRIFYING TALES. I've tried to cyberstalk the actress on her web site, Facebook, and Instagram, but not much information is out there other than lovely images of her not in a nun's habit. Audiences probably wouldn't recognize her outside of her stage costume and brandishing a ruler. She has become and always will be part of a tradition at Stages - the hilarious Sister who has "taught" 8 classes over the years at the venue.
In case you are wondering, this play is a largely interactive experience where a Catholic school teaching nun comes out and lectures the audience about interesting takes on the current world and Halloween. Sister is primed to reclaim the spooky holiday for the Holy Church, and she's also ready to engage the audience about what to watch and what to wear this season. To the delight of the audience she covers horror movies, several ghastly tales of the saints, and even unleashes a fashion show where you can dress up as an unlucky martyr to go trick or treating. It's fast, it's funny, and also has a gentle soul that should find even the most diehard Catholics embracing the ways of Sister.
To be sure there are elements of satire here, but the love of the sacred subject and the smartness of the commentary make it feel genuine. The script is written by Maripat Donovan who is in fact the woman who created the Sister and her Late Night Catechism. Donovan was a theater teacher and of all things worked in construction before turning her love of a stern nun into theatrical gold. But in this production we have Denise Fennell donning the habit, and you'd be hard pressed to figure out she didn't help write it too. Fennell inhabits the role so perfectly many of the audience members assumed she was the real deal. She's a nimble improviser, and nothing shook her faith all night long. It's a seamless performance that will make a believer out of anybody. Fennell never breaks, and she's got crack comic timing that is on display throughout the evening.
This is a great show for groups, and those who want a nice chuckle about religious things. It helps if you are Catholic to understand all the references, but anyone of any faith should pick up pretty quickly where the Sister is going with all of this. Be warned that if you dress inappropriately you may be asked to cover up, and do not chew gum and enter the theatre without expecting chastising. Part of the fun of the evening is getting to know the audience as the Sister quizzes and provokes them. You could see this one 2 or 3 times during the run and get a different feel each performance as it adapts to the house and those in it. This is the eighth time the Sister has been here proving she is a hard habit to break.
This nun is running through October 13th at STAGES REPERTORY THEATRE. Tickets can be purchased through their web site at https://www.stagestheatre.com . You can also reach their box office by phone at (713) 527-0123. The show runs about two hours, and does have a bathroom break in the middle to either relieve yourself or participate in communion of wine and crackers.