2011-10-20 / Faith
Theater students tackle holy writ
The stories of the Bible provide a wealth of material, but much of it is left untouched
Last Sunday afternoon the overflow crowd crammed into the tiny Black Box Theater enthusiastically applauded the show, bringing a nice closure to its brief, four-performance run.
The show was originally produced and written by The Reduced Shakespeare Company, which began as a trio of actors who created “ The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” in the late 1980s.
Since that first successful show, the company has abridged just about everything in sight, including American history, world literary classics, sports and now even sacred text itself.
In this production, the cast of five students—Erik Groth, Ally Crocker, Cooper Smith, Bryana Gable and Will Cowles Meyer— throw themselves into the material wholeheartedly, even playing keyboards and guitars for the too-few songs.
Director Martin Gonzalez gives the actors free rein to be as silly as they can.
The play began enthusiastically with a bluesy tune about the creation of the world, with the cast decked out in “Blues Brothers” sunglasses and black fedoras.
An amusing bit follows in which the actors examine different books about the Bible, including a “children’s bible” that offers only “happy stories,” such as Moses and Jesus spending a day together at the Milk and Honey amusement park.
Act 1 covers the Old Testament with such comic gems as a wrestling match between various biblical characters (for the record, in Gen. 32:22-32 Jacob fought the angel, not Joseph), Moses and the Top 10 commandments that didn’t make the list (“No. 1: UCLA shalt not raise tuition every year”), the slaying of Goliath in slow motion, a song about the descendants of Adam and the “funny bits” of the book of Job.
The shorter Act 2 all-toobriefl y covers the New Testament, beginning with the three wise men all going in different directions and bringing the same gift—a baseball mitt—to the baby Jesus.
The humorous highlights of the second act are a spoof of da Vinci’s famed Last Supper painting (“Why are we all seated on the same side of the table, Lord?”) and the culmination of a running gag about Noah’s Ark in which audience members play the animals and everyone joins in a singalong of “Old Man Noah Had An Ark” to the tune of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”
The show closes with a nod toward the book of Revelation with a top-hat-and-cane show tune, “Armageddon.”
The show had the awesome task of covering all 66 books of the Bible in 90 minutes. The result is hit or miss—with more misses than hits—huge gaps of omission, questionable choices and even some unnecessary profanity.
Whether the weak spots in the show are due to the script or improvisation is not known.
Throughout the show the men play female characters, with the aid of long dresses and curly wigs, while the women portray males. The cross-dressing is amusing at first, but the repetition dulls the effect.
It’s a shame the talented cast has such lightweight material to work with.
The problem is, the show tries so hard not to offend or blaspheme that much of the material isn’t funny.
Instead of gently pushing the envelope, the script falls back on tried-and-true-but-tired material—what comedy group hasn’t depicted Adam as a henpecked husband or God as an old man with a white beard?
Occasionally the show presents some thought-provoking theological discussion, but it seems out of place among the comedy, and it’s inaccurate as well (the so-called “wrathful God of the Old Testament” is the same loving, benevolent deity of the New Testament.)
The stories of the Bible provide a wealth of material, but much of it is left untouched. There’s no thread connecting the few biblical personages presented.
While the show avoids coming across as a Sunday School lesson, it also falters in dramatic cohesion. The scriptwriters should study L.A. comedian Robert G. Lee, who effectively condenses the good book in his “27-minute Bible” monologue where numerous biblical characters are portrayed with celebrity voices.
A better approach would be to satirize the shortcomings of the all-too-human biblical characters as they stumble in their attempts to do good.
A turncoat prophet who beats his donkey so the animal speaks to him, and the man talks back as if this is normal? (Numbers 22:21-34).
Now that’s funny.