From ‘Late Night Catechism’ to now, Vicki Quade has done it her way

Vicki Quade will be back on stage this coming weekend in a show she refers to as a “Christmas Bingo: It’s a Ho-Ho-Holy Night,” a holiday variation of her “Bible Bingo” which has been around town for a decade. Quade will be sharing the role of Mary Margaret O’Brien with actors Rose Guccione and Kathleen Puls Andrade, each of them able to weave an interactive spell and asking audience members such questions as “Did Santa Claus babysit the baby Jesus?

This comedy, which is among many Quade shows to have a home at the Greenhouse Theater Center (more at nuns4fun.com), arrives Friday for a six-week stay. It is yet another stop on the interesting life that Quade has chosen for herself, fashioning a career as writer, actor and producer that has made her, as the host of PBS’s “Wild Travels” Will Clinger accurately puts it, “a Chicago treasure with an abiding curiosity about the world around her.”

Those and other praiseful words appear on the jacket of Quade’s book, “Close Encounters of a Chicago Kind” (Eckhartz Press), which is lively and typically observant, its foundation formed by the brief stories that Quade had been posting on Facebook for a decade .

Quade is most well known as the co-creator of a theatrical wonder called “Late Night Catechism,” but in this book there are vivid examples of what has driven her life and career. As she writes, “We are curious people… I think we are open and friendly. It’s easy to strike up a conversation with total strangers, whether it’s in line at a movie, sitting in a restaurant, sharing an elevator.”

In a pleasant fashion this book has the feel of memoir, as she writes about delivering newspapers, stopping into Manny’s for “kreplach soup and some good rye bread,” her favorite childhood toy, a “Rin Tin Tin dog, with a plush body and a plastic head. I carried it with me everywhere,” and some heartfelt observations of the early months of the pandemic: “A dear friend died today… no funeral is planned. Just on online get-together. … God, I hate this pandemic. I want to share my grief, but all I can do is share it in the privacy of my living room. Is that sharing? Where did my grief go?”

She travels back to her childhood growing up on the Southwest Side, attending St Albert the Great Catholic School and Queen of Peace High School in Burbank.

She attended Moraine Valley Community College and graduated from Northern Illinois University with a degree in journalism. “I loved to write and loved to tell stories,” she told me. She worked for daily newspapers, wrote for national magazines, and most other publications in the area. She also spent a dozen years as a correspondent for Newsweek. She would marry and have three now-adult children, Michael, David and Catherine.

In the early 1990s she collaborated with her friend, the actor Maripat Donovan, and created the interactive one-woman play “Late Night Catechism” and it premiered quietly in May 1993 as a late-night offering at what was then Live Bait Theater. Later that same year it moved to the theater’s main stage, there to be reviewed in the Chicago Tribune by critic Sid Smith who called it “a strange, flawed, uneven but ultimately seductive show that tries to have it both ways and pretty much gets away with it.” Favorable words but they barely hinted at what was about to become one of the greatest Chicago theatrical success stories.

“Late Night Catechism” was a phenomenon. Starring Donovan as a sarcastic, wisecracking nun named Sister, it moved from Live Bait to the Organic, Zebra Crossing, and Ivanhoe theaters before settling in at the Royal George Theater Center. It had lengthy runs in more than 20 cities including New York, Seattle, New Orleans and Los Angeles. It played in countries around the world and it still plays weekends at the Greenhouse.

Donovan and Quade would collaborate on other plays but none would grab magic. And in 2005, the pair engaged in an ugly dispute, with a court battle, eventually settled, over who wrote the play and who owned the character of Sister. (By the way, over the decades the show has also raised more than $3 million for the retirement funds of various orders of nuns.)

This is Quade’s second book. The first was 2000′s “I Remember Bob Collins,” a quite moving gathering of stories from family, colleagues, friends and fans of the WGN radio personality who died in a plane crash in February 2000.

She is happy to be getting back on stage, an experience she told me is “fabulous … scary wonderful.” She is thinking that her new book might also find a place on stage. “I’ve been working to adapt some of the stories for the theater,” she told me. “I am always working and I love it.”

rkogan@chicagotribune.com

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