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Review: The Holy Church of Footlight has a go at the Bible

Sunday School

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The Footlight Players Theatre is filled with the strains of biblical mood-music. On stage are three flats painted like large stained-glass windows depicting Jonah, Samson, and David and Goliath. And for the next 90 minutes, the audience is treated to a high-energy onslaught of crazy, equal-opportunity (albeit non-intellectual) lampooning of the Old and New Testaments. If you don't think too much about it, as director JC Conway suggests in his program notes, you will have a lot of fun.

The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged) is the third script developed by writer/performers Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor of the California-based Reduced Shakespeare Company. It followed after the insane success of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), which ran for nine record-breaking years in London's West End. This production, starring Darryl LaPlante, Brandon McCoy, and Alex Hoffmann, interprets the books of the Bible with fast-paced sequences of silly vaudeville sketches, puns, and parodies. I've seen this show many times in many of its incarnations, and its success depends entirely on the three men cast in the roles. And these boys don't disappoint. On opening night, the actors and their audience were having a great time.

During Act 1, we're introduced to Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Job, and Noah. We hear a song called "Begattin'" and a few clever explanations of who's who in the good book — in rap form. Each player has a turn at narration, while the others switch off characters in rapid-fire fashion. LaPlante has a few standout scenes with some fun literary wordplay, while McCoy clearly enjoys his "Noah moments," and then there's Hoffmann, who complains that he has to play all of the women — which he does with relish. There are also a few good zingers, like this famous one often attributed to Golda Meir: "If the Jews are so smart, why did Moses lead them to the only place in the Middle East with no oil?"

Act 2 does not work quite as well. After all, it's easy to laugh at the God of the Old Testament, who is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction — jealous and proud of it, petty, unforgiving, and downright unjust. The God of the New Testament, however, is caring and sympathetic. Which is why, in the middle of the second act, the actors bring back the story of Noah one last time, and the audience gets involved. It's like children's theater for adults.

There is a danger in saying too much about a show like this. It's basically one joke stretched out over the course of an hour and a half. But there are surprises, like a moment in the second act when all three performers appear onstage as Jesus at the same time and argue about who gets to play him.

Don't expect to be called upon to learn anything new here. There are a few crude moments, if you're prudish. There are some super-soaker spritzes into the welcoming crowd, a lot of silly cross-dressing sight-gags into the likes of Salome and Mary, and several good-natured jabs at religion across the board. It's pretty sophomoric, but it was never meant to be anything but that. What these guys are missing in spontaneity, they more than make up for in enthusiasm.

Stan Gill is a university professor of theater and art, holder of the Sondheim Library Foundation Award for lyrics, and the artistic director of SPROUTS Musical Theatre at Creative Spark's Little Theatre in Mt. Pleasant.

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