OH JESUS! OR AN ACTOR, A CYNIC AND A SAVIOR WALK INTO A BAR...
Written and Performed by John S. Davies
Fort Worth Fringe Festival
Written and Performed by John S. Davies
Directed by Matt Lyle
Reviewed Performance: 9/8/2018
Reviewed by Stacey Upton, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
This 55-minute show is a semi-profane look at Christianity from multiple viewpoints. It is performed as a multi-media one-man show by an actor with a thirty-year career in television, film and stage, John S. Davies, who also wrote the piece. There are many profound and funny parts in this show, and some of it really nails – no pun intended – the performer’s point that Jesus’s life, death and resurrection didn’t have quite the impact that God intended it to have the first time around. To wit – we are not all living in peace and harmony as He intended.
Davies enters the stage arguing with someone we quickly understand is God – or is it all just in his head? Cleverly costumed in an outfit that is part guru, part escaped inmate, and part homeless person, Davies does a great job keeping us guessing if he’s just a crazy street bum, or if he really is Jesus reincarnated as an actor. If indeed he is Jesus, it turns out he was not very accomplished actor. In fact, he’s a failed actor now turning to small theatre venues to recruit new followers so that THIS time when he is resurrected he can have GoPro cameras running, or failing that just a lot of good observers, not just two women hauling olive oil, and thus prove that the whole deal – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – is for real. This meta-reality continues throughout the play. Jesus is quick to reassure us that he is not here to “judge the quick and the dead.” He wants to re-establish Love as a mainstay of humanity. He’s “left the four horsemen at home – they’re playing gin.” He is also out to gain the love of his heavenly father who was dissatisfied with his first incarnation, even though the cross thing seemed to be a big draw. The second incarnation as Joan of Arc didn’t work out well either. This current incarnation of Jesus is jealous of John Lennon, whose “Give Peace a Chance” is hummed throughout the celestial sphere.
That Davies is talented and has a coy way with words is indisputable. There is a veritable spew of words in this piece, enough to fill a two-hour span as opposed to an hour. The subject matter is interesting, and Davies commands the stage, especially when he leaves the often-manic persona of Jesus, reincarnated and turns into the Cynic – another name for the Father of Lies, perhaps. An effective color shift in the lighting also occurs in these powerful moments when the Cynic takes over the body. When Davies is performing this character in the play, he is utterly riveting, using his basso voice to slide up and around words with a negative, authoritarian viewpoint. We the malice beneath them, and the play becomes chilling and effective. It is in the increasingly manic interpretation of the Jesus, Reincarnated figure that this piece starts to sag. It’s a strident performance that becomes more and more crazed as the hour wears on. This storied actor is working very, very hard, yet his very strivings eventually disassociate his audience from his points. The multi-media use of slides is also distracting. There were a few technical glitches that the actor easily ad-libbed around, but overall, they distracted from the piece.
The play could also benefit from some solid cuts to the script. Overall, this one-man show while vigorous, felt like a piece in progress – a show that could turn out to be very powerful as it is workshopped and honed to the essentials. The direction was also lacking. “God” was placed in such a way that the actor turned completely away from the audience, and there seemed to be no specific staging, just the actor pacing around at will. A more nuanced, deliberate performance is absolutely in this capable actor’s reach.
The Fort Worth Fringe Festival was a good platform for this performance piece. The show has a lot going for it, especially the demonstrated quality of the actor himself. This is a great example of what fringe theatre was created to do – give a space to a performance that might not otherwise be seen. This was the third season for the Texas Nonprofit Theatre group led by Dennis Yslas to put on the Fringe, and they are certainly finding their stride. Their home this year was on two stages provided by co-producing entity The Fort Worth Community Arts Center. The center was also hosting an excellent Gallery Night showcasing many artists from the area. The 4th Fringe Festival is in the works, and usually is mounted the weekend after Labor Day.