Brian Jacobson

Sister’s Christmas — Mystery of the Magi’s Gold

By - Dec 3rd, 2009 12:31 pm

Diana Carl Alioto, donning the habit again to play the role of “Sister” in the holiday special installment from the Late Night Catechism series by Maripat Donovan, is a cherub. She’s a sassy cherub, if you will, acting in sympathetic collaboration with the mostly Catholic audience members but always in command of them.

Alioto knows the names and histories of many saints, so when she asks an audience member for a middle or confirmation name, “Sister” can give a brief history. When she doesn’t know (a rarity), she hauls out a clever patron saints deck of keychain cards from Stemper’s that gives her the answer.

Sister is presiding over an end-of-the-semester party in her classroom, informing the class about the holy family’s beginnings and relating side anecdotes about growing up in the faith. If she didn’t interact with the audience, the whole show might only take 30 minutes.

There is a threadbare story and monologue in this one-woman show that ends up with ten living nativity set members on the stage. Yes, the living nativity: Sister has been watching “Forensic Files” on television and wants to know what happened to the third gift the three representatives brought from lands afar. She sets up a re-enactment with audience members dressed in makeshift costumes to make a determination.

Luckily, Alioto’s character surprises those unfamiliar to the Catechism series right away by pointing out a nice older lady in the second row chewing gum. She magically produces a tissue from her sleeve and orders lady to spit it out.  Soon enough, many “civilized” rules of theater are thrown out. People talk to Sister, and she responds. Sister gives out holiday trinkets for correct answers and to reward volunteers. Cell phone cameras pop up as audience members’ friends appear on stage as shepherds, wise kings, or sheep.

There was much howling and guffaws at the Wednesday night show, from an audience that reminisced about attending private school and laughed with Sister about growing up in the Faith. It’s an evening that can be enjoyed by regular theatergoers and novices alike.

Alioto keeps the improv act on a roll, and the moments when she slips back into the script are barely noticable. Like an engine shifting gears, its only perceivable if you are listening for it. In all, Sister’s Christmas Catechism is an enjoyable time, and the audience hammed it up while the lone actor remained refrained — but just barely.

Sister’s Christmas Catechism: Mystery of the Magi’s Gold, runs now until Dec. 13 in a limited engagement at the Marcus Center’s Vogel Hall. Tickets can be obtained online through the preceding link, or by calling 414-273-7206. Afterwards, Alioto remains in habit as she takes up a collection for a trio of retired nuns who are exempt from Social Security and rely on the good graces of others — so bring a little folding money for a good cause.

Categories: Theater, VITAL

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