`Sister' is a welcome addition to the `Catechism' series




If the three wise men had been women, they would have asked directions, helped with the delivery, made a casserole ... and there would be peace on earth.

This is a sample of the wisdom imparted in Sister's Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi's Gold at the Theatre Project. Written by Maripat Donovan, Jane Morris and the show's director, Marc Silva, the one-woman show is a sequel to Donovan's Late Nite Catechism, which played a long run in Towson five seasons ago.

Indeed, the Catechism shows - there's also a Late Nite Catechism 2 - have become so popular, they've practically spawned their own order of gently wise-cracking actress-nuns. The nun at the Theatre Project is played by Lela Frechette, a round woman in wire-rimmed glasses. And though she issues occasional reprimands - especially to late-comers - Frechette's Sister is more of a warm presence than a forbidding one. (She's also authentic enough to have prompted one opening-night theatergoer to ask if she were a real-life nun.)

Like the original show, Sister's Christmas turns the theater into a classroom, with the audience as students. It's a classroom decorated with a couple of Christmas trees and nearly life-sized plastic lawn statues of Mary and Joseph flanking the baby Jesus (an illuminated figure sprouting an orange, heavy-duty extension cord like a garish umbilical cord).

The baby Jesus remains on stage throughout the play, but in the second act, Mary and Joseph are replaced by audience volunteers as part of a living Nativity scene that also features an ox, an ass, a sheep, the Little Drummer Boy, and, of course, the wise men. The participants' costumes are the cleverest part of the show - Sister dolls up the volunteers in everything from a quilted blender cozy (one of the wise men's headpieces) to a white plush toilet seat cover (part of the sheep's regalia).

Once the manger scene is in place, Sister launches into detective mode to solve what she claims is the mysterious disappearance of the wise men's gift of gold. It's thoroughly silly, but it's also as good-natured as Santa Claus (whose name, Sister informs us, was changed from St. Nicholas when he moved to the United States - where he also picked up some lucrative endorsements).

If you're still smarting from being passed over for the holiday pageant in grade school, Sister's Christmas Catechism will give you one more chance. And remember, as Sister says, there are no small parts - only actors who stand around in the background and have no lines.

Show times at the Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., are 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturdays, 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 23. Tickets are $22.50-$35. Call 410-547-SEAT.

Senior `Idol'

A Maryland Senior Idol Contest will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday to benefit the Older Americans Disaster Relief Fund, a federal program established to help older victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Eighteen finalists will compete before a panel of judges made up of director/choreographer Ray Hatch, Oldies 1370-AM radio announcer Niles Seaberg and actress Vivienne Shub. Actress and director Harriet Lynn will serve as emcee.

The contest will take place at the Chesapeake Arts Center, 194 Hammonds Lane, Brooklyn Park. Tickets are $5 in advance or $8 at the door. Call 410-887-3655.

Faison directs revival

George Faison will direct the revival of West Side Story coming to the Lyric Opera House Dec. 26-31. Washington-born Faison won a 1975 Tony for his choreography of The Wiz - the first African-American to receive this honor. His most recent production at the Lyric was Things That Lovers Do, starring Kenny Lattimore and Chante Moore, in 2003.

Faison has also worked on several Center Stage shows, including the 2000 production of for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, which transferred to off-Broadway. His other credits include staging concerts and music videos for such performers as Ashford & Simpson, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder.

Tickets to West Side Story range from $38 to $65.50. Call 410-547-SEAT.

`The Normal Heart'

A free staged reading of Larry Kramer's 1985 groundbreaking AIDS drama, The Normal Heart, will be presented at Towson University Dec. 8, starring two award-winning graduates of the university's theater department - 1995 Tony Award winner John Glover (currently appearing on the WB TV series Smallville) and 2004 Helen Hayes winner Bruce Nelson.

An HIV/AIDS awareness event, the evening will begin at 7 p.m. with an outreach expo including information and exhibits from local community and health organizations as well as free HIV/AIDS testing. The reading will take place at 8 p.m. and will be followed by a reception featuring keynote speaker David Bergman, a Towson English professor and the author of several books on gay culture.

The event will be held in the Mainstage Theatre at Towson University's Center for the Arts, on the corner of Osler and Cross Campus drives. For more information, visit towson.edu/centerforthearts.


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