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Friday, April 13, 2012

Review: (Montreal) Bigger Than Jesus (version française)

(Photo credit: Craig Francis)
Mass
Rick Miller is 33, the same age as Jesus was when he was crucified, he was raised Catholic, he hasn’t been to church in 15 years
by Rebecca Ugolini
“Vous allez assister à une messe,” co-author and actor Rick Miller told last night’s expectant opening night audience of Bigger Than Jesus, a one-man show presented at Theâtre Denise-Pelletier by Canadian groups Wyrd Productions and Necessary Angel.
Featuring a new French-language translation of the script by Marie Gignac and Miller and an innovative staging utilizing live projections by Beth Kates and Ben Chaisson, Bigger Than Jesus rivals any liturgical celebration in pomp, grandeur, and mesmerizing visual effects, producing a show which straddles the serious and the silly, the sacred and the profane. 
Miller wears the garb of priest, religious sceptic, fire-and-brimstone preacher, and the Son of God himself
Miller begins Bigger Than Jesus by presenting an acerbic biographical sketch: he’s 33, the same age as Jesus was when he was crucified, he was raised Catholic, he hasn’t been to church in 15 years, and his lack of Sunday attendance is probably his  mother’s greatest personal failing. 
Over the course of the 80-minute piece, Miller wears the garb of priest, religious sceptic, fire-and-brimstone preacher, and the Son of God himself, the interpretation of each role contributing to a tongue-in-cheek meditation on contemporary religious, political, and cultural values.
Like all good theatre—and some would argue, any good religious experience—Bigger Than Jesus’ greatest triumph is that it challenges its audience. The Denise-Pelletier demographic loved the play’s first section, an ironic Canal Savoir-style dry-erase board history of the perceived madness of Christianity, but Miller and Brooks’ script has more than one Gospel to preach. Although the audience laughed it up at the hypocrisy of the closed-minded religious nuts portrayed in the first section, when Miller switched to English in the second section and alluded to petty, near-religious linguistic divides which render English a lingua non grata “this side of Pie IX Boulevard,” the tension in the room was palpable. 
Moments like those are what theatre is about—feeling involved, uncomfortable, invested. Bigger Than Jesus baptizes its audience in that experience, and refuses to apologize for the risks it takes. So put on your Sunday worst and get yourself to Church: let the Mass begin.

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