Be on your best behavior; Sister is back in town: “Sister’s Christmas Catechism” returns to North Coast Repertory Theatre

Sit up straight. Don’t chew gum. And for heaven’s sake, no low-cut blouses. For the 7th holiday season, Sister is back at North Coast Repertory Theatre, and she’s got her beady little eyes on you. She’ll intimidate you; she’ll point fingers at you; she may even rap your knuckles. Whether you attended Catholic school of not, she’ll make you feel like you’re back in one of those small, straight-backed seats – and you’d better behave.

Sister first made her appearance in Chicago, 1993, in “Late Nite Catechism,” which was such a huge hit nationwide that it spawned three spinoffs: “Sister Strikes Again,” “Till Death Do Us Part,” and “Sister’s Christmas Catechism.”

All were co-created by Maripat Donovan, who originated the role and has played it all over the world. The first show has been seen more than 250,000 people around the globe – and that includes plenty of priests and nuns. In fact, Donovan, who worked in Chicago theater for more than 20 years, came up with the idea of helping retired sisters by collecting donations at the end of every performance. Well over $3 million has been raised. The funds also support a Catholic girls’ school in Tanzania.

In 2005, along with co-writers Marc Silva and Jane Morris, Donovan created “Sister’s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold” (it premiered Off Broadway in 2009).

The show is “nuttier than ‘The Nutcracker,” says Donovan.

Sister (who will be played here by Kathryn Gallagher), tackles a question that has plagued historians for millennia: Whatever happened to the gold the Wise Men brought to the manger?

“We know what happened to the myrrh and the frankincense,” Sister says in the show. “Mary used them as a potpourri. They were in a barn, after all.”

But what about the gold? “CSI goes to Bethlehem,” as Sister enlists the audience in solving the mystery – and enacting the Nativity (cheesy animal costumes included).

Prepare to learn something new, like “the origin of a candy cane is a shepherd’s staff, with white representing the purity of the Baby Jesus, and red being the blood of the martyrs. Isn’t that festive? And … if you turn it upside down, it’s a ‘J’ for Jesus!”

In her early school years, Donovan wanted to be a nun, like every good little Catholic girl. And why not? “They wear costumes, they can see with their backs turned, they could kill you with a karate chop, God likes them, and on top of all that, they’re holy.”

Depending on the news of the day, the comments of the audience and other factors, about a third of every show is improvised.

“If someone’s late, or talking to their neighbor, we’re off and running,” Donovan explains. “Sister is a person, and she has ideas about everything. That’s why people want to see these plays. They get to ask the questions they never dared in their youth!”

Donovan and her sisterly colleagues love North Coast Rep’s theater space. “You can see everyone. No one can hide,” she says.

Consider yourself forewarned.

Sister’s Christmas Catechism” runs 7:30pm December 22-23 and 2pm December 24, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.