Burbank native Vicki Quade is the mastermind behind "Late Nite Catechism," which she co-wrote with Maripat Donovan.
‘LATE NITE CATECHISM’
◆ 8 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays
◆ Royal George Theatre,
1641 N. Halsted St., Chicago
◆ Tickets, $30-$38.60
◆ (312) 988-9000; nuns4fun.com
Updated: May 1, 2012 8:09AM
It never occurred to Vicki Quade when she penned “Late Nite Catechism” that class would still be in session 20 years later. It’s a Sister act that doesn’t get old.
That’s because Quade, a Burbank native, continuously updates the script for the rotating group of actors who play a nun teaching audiences the ins and outs of Catholicism.
And, since the nun interacts with the audience, anything can happen.
“The idea of ‘Late Nite Catechism’ grew out of a stand-up comedy routine that Maripat Donovan wanted to do at Live Bait Theater,” Quade said.
Quade decided that the piece should be about growing up Catholic.
“I came up with the idea of doing it as a classroom with the nun character,” she said.
“Once I figured out what the premise of the play was, then I had to do all the research. Even though I grew up Catholic, it was that minutiae that was interesting to pick up again.”
The plan was to run two shows a weekend at 11 p.m. for six weeks at Live Bait in Chicago.
“We did not know how we were going to fill 12 performances,” Quade said. “On opening night, Maripat said, ‘Is this funny?’ ”
The answer was obviously “yes” as people came from as far as Rockford, based on word of mouth.
“Now we have people coming from as far away as New Zealand,” Quade said.
During the fourth week of the run, the prime-time slot became available and “Late Nite Catechism” moved to the early time, where it received glowing reviews.
From Live Bait, the show moved to the Organic Theater in Chicago for one year and the Ivanhoe Theater in Chicago for five years.
“Late Nite Catechism” then went back to Live Bait, next to Zebra Crossing Theatre in Chicago and then to Griffin Theatre in Chicago.
The production eventually landed at the Royal George Theatre, where the show has been drawing crowds since 2002.
Lisa Buscani became a nun — onstage that is — in 1995.
She used to tour extensively, sometimes doing eight shows a week, but currently performs at the Royal George three or four times a month.
“The only reason I could be able to do it this long is that the show’s never the same,” Buscani said.
There are often surprises in the audience, like the time the cardinal of Detroit showed up.
Buscani only knew he was there when the audience “gasped when he stood up to answer a question,” she said. He got it right, and won a prize.
She noted that one doesn’t have to be Catholic to play the role, but it helps.
“You have to keep up on what’s going on in the church because if it’s in the news, they will ask you about it,” Buscani said.
Mary Zentmyer, who has been with “Late Nite Catechism” since 1996, spends a great deal of time on the road with the national touring company of the show but takes the role of Sister at the Royal George when she’s in town.
“I love the freshness of it because of the interaction,” she said. “It keeps me on my toes.”
Sister tells gum chewers to hand over what’s in their mouth, which can lead to some unexpected moments.
“I had an old man hand me his teeth once,” Zentmyer reported.
And she vividly remembers her first show at the Ivanhoe.
“If somebody didn’t stand up when they spoke to Sister, we were supposed to say, ‘What, is your leg broken?’ ”
When one woman said, “Yes,” Zentmyer responded, “Now you’re lying to me, too?”
The woman pulled up her slacks and showed Sister her cast.
“Late Nite Catechism” has toured across the United States as well as in Canada, England, Ireland, Australia and even Malaysia.
In addition to managing the Chicago performances, Quade writes and books spin-off shows including “Put the Nuns in Charge!,” “Sunday School Cinema,” “Saints & Sinners” and “Mother Superior’s Ho-Ho-Holy Night.”
Quade also has a new bingo show and is developing a trivia show for Sister.
After every performance, donations are collected for retired nuns. So far, the show has raised more than $2 million.
Quade said she can’t believe how her little show has grown.
“I pinch myself,” she said. “I think that’s a testament to the fact that we have touched on that nerve of growing up Catholic.”