By Richard Schultz, March 2016 Web Exclusive.
Patti Hannon, the star of the long-running Late Night Catechism, celebrates over 20 years in a role that has brought her accolades as well as a legion of die-hard fans.
Arizona’s favorite ruler-wielding nun, Sister, is now back in Late Nite Catechism III: ’Til Death Do Us Part, written by Maripat Donovan With Marc Silvia, which runs through March 26 at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.
This time, Sister offers up the latest dogma fresh off the Internet, some hilarious lessons about love and marriage and her own outrageous version of The Newlywed Game.
Hannon began her Sister habit in 1995, performing Late Nite Catechism in Chicago, then Boston and New York. In 2000, she came to Arizona to star in the production at the center, where she has brought Sister to life ever since.
While growing up in the Mayor Daley’s Bridgeport neighborhood, Hannon attended school at Saint Mary of Perpetual Help.
“I learned about consistency from those nuns who were very invasive in your life, as they should have been,” she recalled. “At the same time, they would not let something bad happen to you. They would call a parent and say, ‘Why is your child not wearing shoes? The kid needs new shoes.’ Sure, they would embarrass the kid in school by saying things like, ‘Is your father drinking again?’ in front of everyone, but they would do something about it.”
She later worked at St. Vincent Orphanage to learn infant nursing.
“It was the early 1960s and I was there with the nuns from New Orleans. It was an interesting time,” she said. “The nuns were wonderful people, but all so tough. One of them threw a bottle at me once because I was working with kids with children pox and I got it. She yelled at me, ‘Go home.’ … Yet, these nuns had such good hearts.”
It’s experiences such as these that Hannon draws on for inspiration in the role of Sister.
“My character has a realness about her,” she said. “It’s important that I have a respect for nuns. Sure, they can be like a bulldog, but I still respect them. Nuns did a lot for education and this show gave me a respect for that. Those nuns were battling for your soul.”
Hannon’s theater training came later. She worked at a singing telegram company in Chicago, initially in the office and then going out in character later on.
She then auditioned for Second City, where the legendary Del Close told her that she would not be on that stage, but encouraged her to keep working.
“I was in my 30s by then and they were recruiting younger performers,” she said.
Still, she continued to work in Chicago’s theater community and eventually won a Jeff Award, Chicago’s version of the Tony Awards.
Now a full-time Scottsdale resident, Hannon has also earned an AriZoni Award for Late Nite Catechism’s longevity.
And after all these years, Hannon credits her costume with getting her into character.
“I come in early and check everything out,” she said. “[I] put on the habit and that’s really [my] warm-up. There’s something about the power of the habit. It’s true!”
Each of Hannon’s shows includes nightly Q&A exchanges with the audience, during which she’s encountered a wide array of topics. Regarding questions about same-sex marriage, Hannon handles the answer gently.
“I say, ‘If two people are being loving to each other, why should we worry about that too much?’ I have to be loyal to my character and to who this nun is, but things have loosen up over the years.”
When asked if her show has changed over the years, the 72-year-old smiled and said, “No, but you change. I’m so lucky to have this gig.”
Regarding hanging up the habit and leaving the spotlight, Hannon added, “I’m too busy having too much fun.”
Late Nite Catechism III: ’Til Death Do Us Part
Through March 26
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
7380 E. Second St., Scottsdale
Tickets: $39; 480-499-8587