She’s smart, stern and a little sassy — equally quick with a quip or an obscure bit of Catholic Church trivia.
Everyone’s favorite fictional nun returns in “Late Nite Catechism Las Vegas: Sister Rolls the Dice,” coming Saturday to the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Arroyo Grande.
Created by Maripat Donovan, the one-woman show finds Sister back in front of the chalkboard teaching an after-hours catechism class for adults. She’s been asked to organize a Las Vegas-style casino fundraiser for St. Bruno’s parish, based on her extensive experience running church bingo.
In the course of the show, Sister covers topics ranging from guardian angels and gambling to show girls and the dangers of drive-through marriage chapels. She even does a few simple magic tricks.
Starring as Sister is Kimberly Richards, who has been playing the funny nun for nearly 14 years. In that time, she’s racked at least 1,500 appearances as Sister on stages across Canada and the United States.
“I’ve never done the same show twice,” said Richards, whose credentials include 12 years in Catholic school. Originally from the Pittsburgh area, she moved to San Francisco with her family at age 13 and graduated from Holy Names High School in Oakland before moving to Las Vegas at 17 to launch her show business career.
Richards discovered “Late Nite Catechism” in 2001, when she was brought onboard to direct a San Francisco production of the show. When the star dropped out unexpectedly, Richards donned the white-and-black habit herself.
The experience inspired her to formally audition for the role. Then the show’s producers sent her to see a matinee performance.
“I walked into the theater and I thought, ‘This is mine. This is so mine,’” she recalled, her confidence boosted by the fact that the set resembled her third-grade classroom. “About 15 minutes into the show, I leaned (over) to my friend and I said, ‘I could so do this show.’ About 45 minutes, I leaned over and said, ‘I could never do this show.’ ”
The aspect that initially intimidated her, she explained, was the question-and-answer portion of the show. “You have no idea what they’re going to ask you,” she said.
Fortunately, Richards has an extensive background in improvisational comedy and dinner theater.
“I’m comfortable walking into a crowd and sticking a mike in somebody’s face and saying, ‘What do you know?’” she said.
“Late Nite Catechism” requires Richards to field all manner of inquiries from the audience — some quirky, some uncomfortable.
“There are stock, silly questions I get all the time, like ‘What do you have (on) under your habit?’” Richards said. “What do you think I’m going to say? ‘A little leather, a little lace?’ ”
She’s also dealt with more theologically thorny issues, such as the church’s attitude toward homosexuality.
“You just have to be ready for whatever comes,” said Richards, who typically travels with saint books and a copy of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Catholicism.” “I have two or three priests on speed dial if I get a question I need answered (right away).”
During shows, Richards also shares stories about her own experiences with the church. In seventh grade, for instance, she was caught chatting with her friend in the bathroom by a petite nun “built like a tank.”
“She literally took my head under her one armpit and Mary’s head under the other and slammed our heads together (while saying) ‘No talking in the lavatory!’ ” Richards recalled with a chuckle.
Although “Late Nite Catechism” derives its humor from Catholic life, Richards stressed that the show never stoops to “Catholic bashing.”
“It’s very respectful. It’s never irreverent. It’s first a tribute to the sisters and then to the Catholic Church,” she said, noting that Sister takes a collection to support retired nuns at the end of each performance. “Nuns and priests and bishops, they all approve.”
In fact, Richards has the endorsement of a real-life nun — her aunt, Sister Carleen Richards, who’s lived in a convent for 63 years. The actress wears her aunt’s “professional crucifix” as part of her “Late Nite Catechism” costume.
“People say all the time, ‘(You look like) you’re having a good time up there,’ ” Kimberly Richards said. “I am. I am having a good time up there…. It’s just an incredible high.”
"Late Nite Catechism Las Vegas: Sister Rolls the Dice"
2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday
Clark Center for the Performing Arts, 487 Fair Oaks Ave., Arroyo Grande
$39 to $48
489-9444 or www.clarkcenter.org