If you go
‘Late Nite Catechism Las Vegas: Sister Rolls the Dice’
When: 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, Jan. 20
Where: Daniels Pavilion, Philharmonic Center for the Arts, 5833 Pelican Bay Blvd., Naples
Tickets: www.thephil.org or 239-597-1900
ust don't let Sister catch you chewing gum.
For Catholics, "recovering Catholics," and anyone who ever wondered if the nuns really are as fierce as their reputation, "Late Nite Catechism" is the answer. The participatory theatrical event has spawned a host of spin-offs since the original debuted in 1992, playing to untold thousands, and raising more than $3 million to help support retired nuns. The latest version of the show is coming to the Phil for a five-performance run, starting Monday, Jan. 16.
The audience for the show takes the part of a "late nite" catechism class, taught by "Sister," who is never addressed in any other manner or given a specific name. In the new iteration of the show, "Late Nite Catechism Las Vegas: Sister Rolls the Dice," St. Bruno's Convent needs a new roof, so the nuns send Sister, with her extensive experience running the church bingo game, to Las Vegas to raise the funds to raise the roof.
Actress and comic Denise Fennell, based in Los Angeles, transforms herself from a comely young woman to the fire-breathing disciplinarian of former altar boys' nightmares, working with Maripat Donovan, who co-wrote the original show, and originated the role of Sister.
"I'm so lucky to be able to work personally with Maripat," said Fennell, reached by telephone. "She's a genius, and she has become my mentor."
Fennell will be donning the habit for her sixth version of the show, which will be getting its national debut in Naples. While she has taken the role of Sister all across the country and beyond, this will be the first "Late Nite Catechism" show in Southwest Florida, she said.
While she has learned a great deal from Donovan, who discovered her while she was doing improv in New York, the roots of Fennel's performance as Sister go deeper, to her earliest childhood, she said.
"I was raised Catholic in Boston," she said. "If my grandmother said something was 'unacceptable' — like being late — look out."
Fennell also played Tina in "Tony n' Tina's Wedding" off-Broadway, and says going from a bride to the "bride of Christ" has been great for her.
"It's been a gift, the most fun I've had on stage. It's much better doing standup in a nun's habit," she said. "We'll play some games — you might win at 'religious roulette.' There are a lot of opportunities to go off the script." And, she said, she always catches someone chewing gum.
Ashley Carter at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts said the show is close to sellout for all five performances, but limited tickets may still be available.