Playing this week at McDavid Studio, SISTER’S BACK TO SCHOOL CATECHISM: The Holy Ghost and Other Terrifying Tales is a hilarious, one-nun-show in which Sister is the teacher and you – the audience members – are her students.
We sat down with the Sister, otherwise known as actress Denise Fennell, for a quick teacher/student conference.
Q: How can I stay out of trouble in the Sister’s classroom?
A: A good Catholic learns the rules so they know how to break them. First off, try to show up on time, and girls, please wear suitable attire. Gum is not allowed and unless you are going hiking in Arizona, bottled water is frowned upon. Wine and beer are fine, as we are Catholics and Catholics are allowed to drink.
Q: This is the latest show in the who haven’t seen the show may think you’re going to make fun of Catholicism, but you actually embrace it. You even deliver a few history lessons.
A: A lot people mistake this class as an opportunity to make fun of the Catholic religion and other religions in general. It could not be further from the truth. First off, I was raised Catholic and I certainly don’t want to go to Hell for making fun of it.
The show was created and written by Maripat Donovan and is based on her life experience. She loves the nuns, and so do I. My goal is to bring humor to truth and make people step away from their lives for a couple hours and laugh.
This is a class, so I am actually going teach a few things along the way, and hopefully everyone will learn something. We welcome all religions and I love learning about the other religions from my class, the audience.
This is interactive so the audience will be involved, but remember we are all there to have fun to have fun, I promise you are safe. After all, I am not allowed to use the ruler any longer. It’s illegal!
Q: Tell us about yourself – where you grew up, went to school, how you got into theater.
A: I’m a “neighborhood girl” from Boston. I grew up in a small little Italian section of town called The Lake. I grew up Catholic. My grandma went to church about three times a day, so I know a lot about Catholicism. I decided to move to New York to become an actress – not technically with my parents’ wishes or blessings, but eventually they came around when they saw me in the habit.
When I moved to New York, I was cast in Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. It’s one of the longest-running off-Broadway shows. I starred in that for many years in New York. I toured all over the United States and Japan, and of course, we played Bass Hall. It was in the role of Tina where Maripat found me and cast me as Sister in Late Nite Catechism ― which is bizarre because I was this gum-chewing, loud-mouth Italian girl. I guess she saw something in me that she thought was special.
Q: Who have been some of your role models – actors, actresses whose work you’ve admired and has made an impact on you and your career?
A: Truth be told, I was obsessed with being Annie. She was the reason I wanted to be an actress. Now later in life, I learned the art of funny, and discovered Lily Tomlin. I was able to see her perform live and it was like watching a master class on comedy.
Then a couple years ago I was lucky enough to get cast in her one-woman show Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. The role was written for her by Jane Wagner., and Lily one a Tony Award for her portrayals of over 12 characters. It was one of the most challenging roles I have ever played.
I also grew up watching Laverene and Shirley, and I love Joan Rivers. She is someone to be admired. I was in New York City when they dimmed the Broadway lights in her honor it was so beautiful to see so many people come out to honor her work.
Who do I admire the most and who are my role models? That would have to be my parents, as crazy and dysfunctional as my Boston family is. They instilled greatness in me and gave me the endurance to survive in this crazy world of show business. I love them for allowing me to follow my dreams. Nothing makes me happier than when they are in the audience smiling and laughing. I love you Bill and Vera!
Q: What’s next for you?
A: A vacation. I just finished a three-month run of the hilarious comedy whodunit Shear Madness, then jumped right back into the habit. After teaching Halloween Catechism Class it’s off to Italy to relax, eat PASTA and meet the POPE!
Q: Do you ever just wear the nun outfit around town? You could probably get some free lunches out of it.
A: How do you think I’m going to meet the Pope! Being dressed like a nun gets you VIP access to just about anywhere – except for HELL!!!
The show runs Wednesday, Oct. 5 through Sunday, Oct. 9, at McDavid Studio, adjacent to Bass Performance Hall. For tickets, click here or call 817-212-4280.