By Dr. Anton Anderssen
I love my new “Happy Birthday Baby Jesus” kaleidoscope, which I won for knowing that Santa Claus is based on the real-life Saint Nicholas of Myra, in Lycia, a province of the Byzantine Anatolia. The reason I know this is because during the holidays I masquerade as an old-world Saint Nicholas and randomly drop in on Christmas parties. Mary Zentmyer has a similar habit: she dresses as a nun and entertains a “catechism class” at the Gem Theatre. Sister’s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold is a hilarious comedy which runs through December 31.
The focus of the show is on the Three Magi who brought gifts to the Baby Jesus; this event is celebrated in the Christian Church on January 6 each year, and is called Epiphany. The show is interactive, and “students” (patrons) can win prizes for knowing answers to catechism questions, such as, “What were the names of the three Magi?”
Technically, the answer would be Mr. Magoo 1, Mr. Magoo 2, and Mr. Magoo 3, since there is no Biblical mention of their names, nor were they three Magi (plural of Magoo or Magus). But you can’t win a prize with an answer like that, so you use folkloric data, and elevate them to kings. According to one tradition, Balthasar was king of Arabia, Gaspar was king of India, and Melchior was king of Persia. An 8th century saint, Bede the Venerable, described the kings this way: “The first was called Melchior; he was an old man, with white hair and long beard; he offered gold to the Lord as to his king. The second, Gaspar by name, young, beardless, of ruddy hue, offered to Jesus his gift of incense, the homage due to Divinity. The third, of black complexion, with heavy beard, was called Baltasar; the myrrh he held in his hands prefigured the death of the Son of man.”
Zentmyer plays a sister who is a Yak of all Trades – she is a costume designer, party organizer, gift wrapper, historian, story-teller, and Christmas play director – clearly a master of Nun.
In part two of the play, students are drawn from the seats to participate in the staging of St. Francis’ nativity scene. Sister chose me to be the ox. While I generally limit my theatrical participation to review only, I acquiesced to performing on stage. My acting role as the ox was to sniff the manger. I added improvised drama to the role by picking up the Baby Jesus and sniffing his butt. I thought this would be more representative of bovine instinct. Sister was not amused.
Mary Zentmyer kept the audience in stitches for two hours as she played the exacting nun. Her repertoire ran the gamut from virgin jokes to ass-riding. The show is brilliantly executed, outrageously funny, and a great way to spend an evening at the cabaret.
Catechism runs through December 31. For tickets and information, kindly visit http://www.gemtheatre.com/