Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Theater Reviewlet: My favorite theater experience in recent memory: The Mysteries - extended to July 14th

A six hour play, about the bible, with nudity, and dinner? It sounds like a jokey off-off-broadway romp, and it is, but its also something much more.

Six hours is a long time, but there were two breaks for dinner and dessert served by our concierges for the night, actors assigned to taking carae of our needs, (dinner was very tasty, falafel and baklava, which is fitting given most of the Bible takes place in Jerusalem). But the time passed swiftly (except maybe a little draggy near the end, as being faithful to the medieval source material, the play engages the self-contradictory muddle of the Appocrypha) it was eye opening, even life changing, to see the Bible told as a single cohesive story and re-imagined in such an engaging way.

We went because R- knew the director/conceiver, Ed Eskandar, from college, living in what my co-author's research has shown is the geekiest Stanford dorm. But also because the NY Times had a glowing review.

But it quickly became one of my favorite theater experiences ever. It made me really glimpse why people convert to Christianity for the first time and why the message of Christianity has been successful for 2000 years. You realize how the power of these biblical stories is interwoven into tapestry of western civilization. It was also neat to see the story as one coherent whole, as opposed to the bits and fragments you encounter your entire life.

It's quite the impressive ensemble cast, 50 playwrights (including luminaries like David Henry Hwang) and over 50 actors, for a theater that seated barely more than 50 people. The chorus fills the small space with unearthly sound, and while some of the devout may find much of this translation to be blasphemous: imagining a three way between Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdaleine; or the angelic Gabriel's (played by a vaguely asexual female actress) Bernini-esque ecstatic rape of the virgin Mary, or the portrayal of old testament God's childish petulant notion of love as mindless devotion, before Jesus taught God otherwise by living life as a human.

But really, believers should applaud, because in its irreverant, provocative style, the Mysteries finds the heart of Christianity for a hipster savvy audience, and shows Christianity's sense of compassion and belonging and awe and wonder and love.