'Late Nite Catechism' on stage Feb. 15 in Kennewick

Dori O'Neal, Herald staff writerFebruary 8, 2013 

Some people have bitter memories of growing up in Catholic schools. For others, it was a more pleasant experience.

For Barbara Manning, 62, being taught by nuns left her with mostly good childhood memories.

It's one of the reasons Manning is a natural portraying Sister in the highly popular one-woman show Late Nite Catechism. It's at 8 p.m. Feb. 15 in the Windermere Theatre at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.

"All and all, I really did have a wonderful experience with nuns growing up, and can honestly say I never met a bad nun," she said in a recent telephone interview. "Oh sure, some were harsh, and some not so harsh."

And when Manning steps into her role as Sister, she'll be a kinder and gentler nun, she said.

Late Nite Catechism is a form of participatory theater where Sister teaches an adult catechism class, only the audience are her pupils.

The show also is one of those comedies that either takes you on an enjoyable nostalgic trip or a fearful step back in time, Manning joked.

"You really don't have to be Catholic to enjoy this show, and you might even learn something in my catechism class," Manning said in a mockingly stern voice followed by a giggle.

Late Nite Catechism, written in 1993, was the brainchild of playwrights Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan. Donovan was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for outstanding solo performance when the show premiered in New York. Donovan won the best solo performance award from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle in 1999.

Manning has been playing Sister in different productions of Catechism since 1998. She spent more than 10 years playing the role in Seattle, making it one of the city's longest-running shows. She was honored during that decade by the Sisters of The Holy Names with their Marie Rose Award, and by the city with an award from the Women in Film for lifetime achievement.

"When I was first hired for this show, you had to have been raised in Catholic schools," she said. "Probably because they thought real experience would help you play the part. Thankfully, that's not the case anymore. Anyone can try out now because it really doesn't require experience having nuns for teachers to pretend to be one in this show."

Manning grew up in Ohio, and though raised in the Catholic school system through high school, she went to a Baptist college.

"Really can't tell you why I did that, I just did," she said. "But there weren't a lot of Catholic colleges to choose from back then either."

She dabbled in drama while in secondary school but didn't tackle it as an occupation until she was much older.

"I was a teacher for a while and worked for a doctor," she said. "But when my kids got older (she has two sons ages 21 and 24), I decided it was time to follow my dream of acting."

She studied with renowned New York drama coach Uta Hagen and has since kept busy in film, documentaries, commercials, off-Broadway, regional theater, cabaret and on cruise ships. She also loves to produce and direct plays and musicals.

"I do love all forms of theater and entertaining, especially portraying Sister in Late Nite Catechism. But even though I might not be a harsh nun, I do expect my audience to dress appropriately when they come to class, er, I mean the show," she said mischievously.

Tickets cost $22 to $57 and are available at the Toyota Center box office or www.ticketmaster.com. Tickets purchased online are subject to service charges.

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