Don’t even think about chewing gum. And because we are in the penitential period of Lent, audience members had better remember to sit up straight, raise their hands before talking, and turn off their cell phones.
Failure to meet with these principles will earn an unsettling scowl from Sister that will leave the offender quaking with recollections of ancient penances involving rulers, kneeling on rice and causing baby Jesus to cry.
That stern look, however, accompanied by a twinkle in the eye ensures two hours of laughs as Diana Alioto returns to one of her most beloved characters, “Sister,” in “Late Nite Catechism.” The comedy will run for one night, March 31, at Wilson Theater at Vogel Hall, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
The “Late Nite Catechism” phenomenon began in 1993 when two Chicago women — Maripat Donovan and Vicki Quade — wrote the original version. They based it on their own experiences of growing up Catholic. Alioto began her role as Sister in 2003 at the Miramar Theatre on Milwaukee’s East Side.
“I was working at Skylight Music Theatre in the Artistic Department, and an audition listing for ‘Late Nite Catechism’ came across my desk. I had just finished RCIA at Corpus Christi Parish — now Blessed Savior — and I thought, ‘I’m a new Catholic; this would be fun,’” Alioto said. “I auditioned, and the rest is history. A director came to Milwaukee and coached me in the role, and then I was able to go to Hollywood a few times to learn some of the eight other ‘Late Nite’ shows.”
Alioto has worked as a professional actress for more than 35 years and played various roles. Theatergoers may recognize her from her work at Skylight Music Theatre, Next Act Theatre, First Stage, Bialystock and Bloom, Chamber Theatre and Florentine Opera Company, to name a few.
Alioto and her husband, Steve, are members of Blessed Savior Parish. In addition to her acting roles, she has a regular day job and works as a stage director.
“I had worked in theater administration for about 20 years in Milwaukee, but now I work in the IT department for a school district,” she said. “I majored in theater (minor in philosophy) at Marquette University, and then went on to get my MFA in acting/directing at Binghamton University in upstate New York. So, I’ve always been in theater.”
As Sister, Alioto fully embodies an old-school nun in her full black-and-white habit with a large crucifix, wimple and veil, as she dispenses black-and-white truths of the faith. She enjoys the role and admits that one of the best aspects of her performances is the variety of the audiences in the interactive production.
“Some of the stuff they come up with is hilarious and priceless,” she said. “I love that I get to travel all over. My husband comes with me a lot because he works for the same company as a production rep. One day, when we were still dating,
they couldn’t find a rep to come with me, and I said, ‘my fiancé has seen the show so many times, he could do it,’ and they let him. I especially like that I’ve been able to meet so many real sisters. Oftentimes, we collect for retired sisters after performances, and I try to hand-deliver the funds if I can. Once I was in Ohio, I think, and I was able to deliver to a cloistered convent.”
Aside from traveling challenges, canceled flights and inclement weather, one of the greatest issues for Alioto is keeping the show down to two hours or less, due to the interactive fun between her and the audience.
“Once, near the end of the Milwaukee run in 2003, I performed for only 12 people,” she said. “But it turned out to be so much fun — I really got to meet my audience members, and it was almost like a real class; that is, a real class with jokes.”
Audience members often tell Alioto that she reminds them of a sister who taught them in grade school and that she brought back wonderful memories.
“They tell me they haven’t laughed that much in a long, long time,” she said. “Some also mistake me for a real sister, which is the best compliment ever.”
While the show is a comedy, often poking fun at Catholicism, Alioto said taking on the role of Sister has deepened her faith and given her more appreciation for those who choose the religious life.
“I am in awe of them,” she said. “I pray my rosary more and read a lot about saints and the Catholic faith because I want to be prepared. Also, I get a lot of my props from Holy Hill and being there so much has really helped.”
Alioto is looking forward to performing her one-night show March 31 and hopes to continue her role as long as she can.
“I want to do this as long as people come to see me and as long as theaters and churches keep booking the show,” she said. “I am so blessed to be able to perform this show.”
If you want to go:
Late Nite Catechism
Starring Diana Alioto
Friday, March 31, at 7:30 p.m.
For tickets, visit: