Sunday School Cinema
By Brian Kirst
Chicago Free Press
With an overabundance of sequel blockbusters hitting the Cineplex this summer, writer Vicki Quade has picked the perfect time to add a little motion picture influence to her long-running “Mother Superior” character. Her “Late Nite Catechism,” is a one-woman show featuring a tough but loving nun called Sister, and has been running in Chicago since 1993. Her next show, “Put the Nuns in Charge!” was created in 2005. Besides timeliness, Quade’s latest “Sunday School Cinema” also provides an amusing and heartfelt afternoon of live interaction and comedy—something that even the best of film cannot provide.
Things start out at a quick pace as Mother Superior enters to prepare the attendees of St. Bruno’s Lecture Series for the arrival of lecturer Father Michael. Of course, Father Michael being a no-show leaves Mother Superior little option but to conduct the lecture, “Would You Take Jesus to the Movies?” herself. Using Father Michael’s chosen films—including “Ben Hur,” “The Sixth Sense” and “The Sound of Music”—and current cinematic offerings provided by the audience, Mother Superior riffs triumphantly on the appropriateness (or lack therefore) of certain selections and on the state of filmmaking in general.
As Mother Superior the gifted Elaine Carlson is all sweet spitfire and menacing grace. Whether sharply chastising tardy audience members or rapturously acting out scenes from her favorite film, “The Song of Bernadette,” Carlson is always perfectly on target with a loving, comical energy swirling about her. She also weaves the audience masterfully into the show. At the show’s opening performance, the best participation moments included a sing-a-long of “Do Re Mi” and the back of the room abdication of a rosary throwing volunteer. Carlson’s rendering him a “lunatic” was pure vengeful gold and also helped her establish a pious character that can also be a little naughty. Ultimately, one can’t help but chuckle as Carlson’s Mother Superior gleefully describes her strong desire to see the films that the Catholic Church has declared as the most indecent.
Smartly, Quade has balanced the script with equal parts structure and mobility allowing Carlson to shine as she does. Director Cecilie D. Keenan, taking cues from Quade, also grounds Carlson with a firm hand balanced with enough creative elasticity to allow Carlson to soar even further.
With its zany interaction and slightly twisted heart, “Sunday School Cinema” provides a fun and successful alternative to afternoon movie going. Just remember—don’t mention “Shrek 3” too often or the nun might fawningly call you “simple.” Besides, as far as sequels go, Carlson and “Sunday School Cinema” are the real winners.