Religion goes to Hollywood
June 6, 2007
By BEVERLY FRIEND
Pioneer Press Theater Critic
Vicki Quade has done it again! Who would've thought there would be enough gold in the Catholic school experience to provide her with a wealth of material for not one, not two, but three glittering comedies.
Her first play, "Late Nite Catechism" (written with Maripat Donovan), has been performed in over 150 cities. Her second play "Put the Nuns in Charge!" begins another successful year. Now, to top it all off, the opening of "Sunday School Cinema" provides a brand new treat. All three run weekly at the Royal George.
The newest play looks effortless, benefiting from the collaboration of three skilled veterans: Perceptive playwright Quade, experienced actress Elaine Carlson, who also stars in "Put the Nuns in Charge!," and solid director Cecilie D. Keenan, who formerly took on the nun's role in the original play.
Once again, we're in a parochial school classroom, sitting straight in our seats with feet planted firmly on the floor, facing our stern (and delightfully funny) nun. This time, however, we are supposedly waiting the appearance of a priest who will start a lecture series on the moral value of current films. The audience dutifully fills out and submits a questionnaire on favorite or most recent films seen and their reactions.
The priest never arrives.
Mother Superior must either refund the money or carry on. Stating that Catholics never give refunds, she takes over and begins her hilarious discourse on the current film scene, working from the question, "Would you take Jesus to this movie?"
Improv interlaces with set script as Carlson begins by reacting to the slips of paper with audience selections before moving on to the supposed curriculum for the day which includes her glowing evaluation -- and occasional dazzling reenactment -- of such films as the "Song of Bernadette" and the "Sound of Music."
Throughout, the audience is engaged, participating as Mother Superior calls on them, scolds them for being late, or for inattention, and bullies them unmercifully. She incorporates them into the show. People get caught up in the experience, reverting to schoolroom behavior and misbehavior. In one hilarious moment, a young man is supposed to demurely hand a St. Christopher medal to her as they act out a poignant scene between a young boy and Bernadette. Instead, he casually tosses it to her and is sent to the rear of the room in punishment.
There are also rewards as Mother Superior bestows various religious memorabilia -- prayer cards, glow-in-the-dark medals, and small statues -- on well-behaved students.
At intermission, she selects a young lady from the audience to monitor the class and oversee small-group discussions about four dead actors to determine whether they should go to Heaven or Hell. At the opening matinee, Frank Sinatra, Joan Crawford, Cary Grant, and Anthony Quinn were the actors named by the audience.
The fun continues after the intermission when Mother Superior explains her deliciously unique method for determining their fate.
No, you don't have to be Catholic to enjoy this play. You also don't need to have seen
the earlier works. "Sunday School Cinema" can stand on its own as a wonderful blend of satire and nostalgia. Fun for the whole family and especially for movie buffs.
'SUNDAY SCHOOL CINEMA
Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted St. 3 p.m. Sundays. $25-30. Valet parking $10. (312) 988-9000. www.sundayschoolcinema.com.