You won't see Sister catching her breath or gathering her wits as she waxes nostalgic about the heyday of the pre-Vatican II Catholic church - unless Kathleen Stefano wants you to. A veteran stage and film actor, Stefano applies improvisational talent to her role as "Sister," a didactic, yet endearing teacher who loves a good audience like she loves the Good Word. Stefano is among a small group of actors who portray Sister in traveling productions of Vicki Quade's and Maripat Donovan's play, which was first staged in Chicago in 1993.

The show is scripted like a Catholic comedy routine, and each show is unique to its audience, whose participation is mandatory. (You try saying "no" to Sister.) The interaction allows for some of Stefano's finest moments: One man asked Sister what she thought of priests in the Catholic church marrying, to which she replied, unflinching: "Well, if they're really in love ..." Yet it can also warrant some on-the-spot discomfort. Throughout the first act of the show I attended, Stefano (and the audience) had to contend with a woman who would have tried the good Lord's patience. Without breaking character, Stefano sternly reprimanded the obnoxious audience member - who continually interrupted the show with inane comments - even working her nemesis into the show: "Three of these `marks on the blackboard`, and you'll have to go to the principal's office." The woman finally sobered up in the second act, but not before a merciful Sister let her know that she could be escorted out - and refunded her money for the "class."

Sister is a staunch, no-nonsense nun. If your head is in the clouds during catechism, you had better be thinking about God. And come quick with responses to her rapid-fire Q&A; Sister rewards correct answers - given in complete sentences beginning and ending in "Sister" - with glow-in-the-dark rosaries, laminated saint cards, dashboard Jesus and Mary figurines, and the coveted crucifix with a built-in penknife.

8pm Tuesday-Friday, 2&8pm Sunday, 2&7:30pm Sunday
Through January 26
The Empire Theatre
226 N. St. Mary's Street
224-9600 (Ticketmaster)

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