REVIEW: “Mother Superior’s Ho-Ho-Holy Night”

Nuns Take On the Holiday Funk


Mother Superior’s Ho-Ho-Holy Night

by Vicki Quade
At the Royal George thru January 3rd (tickets)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Since success in 1993, Vicki Quade has turned her Catholic school upbringing into a cottage industry. Her one-woman sister act, Late Night Catechism, first performed by Maripat Donovan, continues to regale audiences nationwide with its potent mix of pre-Vatican II nostalgia, absurdist takes on Catholic doctrine, and lovable GetAttachment.aspx authoritarianism. The format for LNC, and each of its spin-offs, provides a watershed of reliable material for its habit-attired comediennes to fall back on while allowing for roomy give and take between nun and audience. But one element never varies from show to show—the hierarchical relationship between nun and audience is sacrosanct.

It’s a device that’s returned to again and again. Many have mentioned how being in the room with Sister propels them back to 3rd grade catechism class. Certainly, walking down the hallway to the theater gave me Catholic flashbacks. It’s decked with pictures of Popes past, after-school notices, gold stars, and a strategically placed statue of the Virgin. Who knew just the smell of construction paper could bring it all back? Being relegated to childlike status, while someone else reigns with supreme certainty, no matter how nutty they get, is the core of this theatrical experience. (It’s kind of like being under the Bush/Cheney administration, but much more fun and with far less devastating consequences.)

The latest of Quade’s installments, Mother Superior’s Ho-Ho-Holy Night, provides yet another opportunity for nun-domination. The question is, does the rest of its material advance beyond that central core? Kathleen Puls Andrade, who alternates playing Sister with Lisa Braatz through the run, gamely pulls the audience into the task of creating a Christmas pageant that will wow even His Holiness. Here, she’s most successful when she can get a row of men into haloes and angels wings to try out variations on the angel Gabriel.

index However, the humor really flags when she tries to create forced outrageousness by mixing secular and sacred Christmas imagery—something we’ve long since lost our outrage over. Ever the season for pagan, Christian, and even Jewish syncretism, Christmas is so crammed to the gills with intermixed sacred and secular, having Santa show up in the manger is no longer a stretch—if it ever was. In point of fact, there’s a house on Addison, just west of Clark Street, that changes its front yard tableau of the Virgin Mary regularly. A display of devotion that I never bothered with at my most Catholic, and yet both Santa and the Easter Bunny are trotted out each respective season to take their place beside the Mother of God.

Quade and company may have to go back to the drawing board to dig into what is funny about Christmas, from a Catholic perspective. We are inundated with messages like, “Jesus Is the Reason for the Season,” at this time of year. But the “season” of holiday festivity existed thousand of years before Jesus was born—something that Roman Catholicism remembers and jovially lives with to this very day.

Rating: ★★½