Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sister Visits Cabaret for Christmas

Charr Crail photo

“Sister’s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi's Gold” takes over at the Cosmopolitan Cabaret where “’Til Death Do Us Part–Late Night Catechism” left off last month. The original show exploited the premise that the audience consisted of students in a Catholic parochial school classroom, being bullied by the traditional knuckle-rapping nun. The show opened with playwright Maripat Donovan playing “Sister,” the one-woman role.

In “Christmas Catechism” Donovan follows the original format. The first act is introduction, coaching us in the mysteries of Catholicism, and the second brings on the clowns from the audience. In the original the group performed a mock version of”The Newlywed Game”; in the Christmas effort they dress up as animals and Biblical figures to reenact the Nativity.

In the original Donovan performed as the hard-nosed “Sister.” In the Christmas version we get a quite different Sister, ably delivered by Nonie Newton-Breen. This time she’s a hipster with a dry sense of humor, using her savvy and charm to lure non-believers into the fold. Donovan, by the way, tends to be ecumenical. In 1985 she followed the Jewish trade as an understudy in “Portrait of a Shiksa” (i.e. non-Jewess).

Both versions have about the same strengths and weaknesses. The first act builds around a comic presentation of what Catholicism is all about and its role in the rest of the world. An added highlight is Newton-Breen's gift for repartee. Her Sister draws comments, often barbed, from the audience. Then, unless the audience is salted with shills, she fires back quick-witted ripostes worthy of a seasoned nightclub comic.

The second act, in both versions of the show, is entertaining buffoonery as crowd-pleaser. Each version would be improved if limited to a strong one-act. What’s more, the cocktail waitress leaves just before the show starts, so if you need a refill you have to run out to the bar during intermission and stand in line.

As an extra benefit, the show adds an eight-member singing group, the SS Peter and Paul Choir from Rocklin, who serenade us with songs of the season. They introduce us to Sister, who demands that they add “Jesus” to one of their popular numbers.

“Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold” continues through January 3 at The Cosmopolitan Cabaret, 1000 K Street, Sacramento. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Additional performances are available for matinees on Thursdays, December 10 and 24; for evenings on Thursday, December 24, and Sunday, December 13. There will be no performance on December 25. Tickets are $32-$47, depending on dates and seating.

“Late Night Catechism: Till Death Do Us Part” returns for an encore week from January 5 to 10.

Tickets are available at the Cabaret box office two hours before show time. They are available earlier at The Wells Fargo Pavilion Box Office, 1419 H Street or by calling (916) 557-1999 (-1198 for groups), and (800) 225-2277. Check online at For more information visit

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