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Review: ‘Sister’s Summer School Catechism: God Never Takes a Vacation!’ at City Theatre


It’s a beautiful day out, and no one wants to be in Room 205. 

Especially Sister.

But here we are, sitting up straight, spitting out our gum and trying to avoid her hawk-like gaze.

Welcome to Sister’s Summer School Catechism: God Never Takes a Vacation!

Summer School is the seventh installment in playwright Maripat Donovan‘s highly amusing immersive series. Donning the wimple once again is Kimberly Richards, who has performed the role more than 800 times at City Theatre. A slight figure beneath a black tunic, scapular and a frighteningly heavy set of rosary beads hanging at her side like a medieval knight’s sword, Sister is out to save souls and bring back memories of the grade-school nuns those in the Boomer generation might remember all too well.

As she pointed out, back in the day, a yardstick wasn’t just for drawing straight lines.

In total command of her classroom, Sister strolls before the countenance of at least a dozen photos and statues of Mary, not to mention Mother Teresa and The Pope. Outside in the hallway leading to the Lillie Theatre, a table is laden with even more statuary and Catholic icons. And of course, there are framed photos of the Man Himself, Jesus Christ.

From the entry to Sister’s Summer School Catechism: God Never Takes A Vacation! at City’s Lillie Theatre | Credit: Maria Sciullo

You don’t have to be Catholic or even Christian to recognize Sister. As she herself noted (while grousing that this summer school is keeping her from hanging out with her order somewhere fun and vacation-y), American pop culture is full of film and TV nuns. The Trouble With Angels, (that would be Rosalind Russell), Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (Deborah Kerr), Change of Habit (Mary Tyler Moore, with Elvis as love interest!) and of course, The Flying Nun (Sally Field) are just a few.

Tony Ferrieri‘s classroom set is the fussy stuff of mid-century classrooms: drawings on the wall, photos, a tiny font of holy water by the door, and religious nick-nacks that Sister hands out to those who give her correct answers. Her desk is a rummage sale of even more stuff.

From the moment Sister arrives, ushered in by church bells and singing, she is in total command. After all, she tells someone who dares question her, “You don’t mess with the bride of Christ.”

She is somewhat soft-spoken and determined to bring this noisy group of summer schoolers to heel. (Making it clear that hell is also a possibility). Sister has names — likely taken from ticket orders — and she might call on you in the audience.

Almost immediately, a man’s cell phone rings. Uh oh. Sister wants to talk to the caller. Another audience member is wearing a dress deemed too low-cut for Sister’s taste; she is quickly given a Kleenex to cover up. Those who transgress are expected to pay up: five dollars here, maybe one dollar there.

A man who arrived late said he only had a $100 bill. Sister eagerly took it, claiming she would make change later. It’s for a good cause; the Pittsburgh performances since 2005 have raised more than $400,000 for the retired nuns at Little Sisters of the Poor and the Sisters of Divine Providence.

There is also a question-and-answer segment, so study up if you’re eager to participate.

The show runs roughly two hours with a short “recess.” Given the interactive nature, your mileage may vary on content, but it’s all fun regardless. 

Just don’t let Sister catch you chewing gum.


Sister’s Summer School Catechism: God Never Takes a Vacation! runs through June 30. For tickets, or 412-431-CITY.