POSTED ON NOVEMBER 18, 2009:
One-man comedy about God and religion digs deep
Against the Grain. McKeanís play isnít anti-God or anti-spirituality or even anti-religion. Itís anti-ignorance and anti-lies-churches-tellpeople- to-keep-them-fearful-and-control-them.
While many in our city attended Sunday evening church services last week, a handful of others and I watched a recovering fundamentalist (you're never fully recovered) act out his long, awkward journey through faith.
Justin McKean's one-man comedy Born Again Yesterday, reprised from its original 2007 performance, begins with the line, "Hello, my name is John, and I'm a fundamentalist. It's been one week since I've judged anyone fit for eternal damnation."
Through a series of fast-paced and sometimes scattered vignettes, McKean illustrates his upbringing in a fundamentalist Christian church -- how he was raised to judge non-believers and Christians who don't agree with him; how he was taught that premarital sex, dancing, homosexuality and liberalism are all sins; and how, as an adult, he was able to reconcile his faith and determine for himself what he really believed. And what he didn't.
McKean's audience is treated sort of like the members of his 12-step group for people "addicted to their own self-righteouness." At various meetings, he tells us stories of his career as a Christian recording artist who changed the words of popular secular tunes to reflect his Christian values in an attempt to reach a younger, hipper demographic.
And how he waited 23 years, until he was married, to have sex, only to have the marriage dissolve two years later.
And how, as he began to search the Bible for answers to his questions, he discovered much of what he was taught at church was a censored version of the truth. His church leaders regularly omitted from and added to the book to make read they way they wanted it to.
That's when McKean began to lose his faith.
Interspersed throughout the play are life lessons and parables McKean wants his audience to learn, ones he learned outside of the church rather than in it, such as: "Jesus was a liberal who helped the poor, hungry and incarcerated" and "Everyone is equal, and it's OK to have different opinions" and "Most Christians aren't deliberately hateful; they're just doing what they're told."
McKean's play isn't anti-God or anti-spirituality or even anti-religion. It's anti-ignorance and anti-lies-churches-tell-people-to-keep-them-fearful-and-control-them. It's about the differences between God and religion, between spirituality and the church.
Not everything about the church is wrong. But the things that are should be recognized and confronted, McKean contends. And in that way, not only is McKean's play honest and real, but it's also very fair and even-handed.
(Well, he does take special care to demonize Republicans. But they kind of deserve it.)
I found Born Again Yesterday to be both entertaining and insightful. There's no doubt that McKean is a skilled actor, who easily and seamlessly slips from one character into another. And his writing is quite good, too, giving the audience plenty to both laugh at and think about.
But in order to end on a note of perfect poignancy, McKean should have stopped about 20 minutes sooner, when he chose his own passage of the Bible to believe in: 1 Corinthians 13.
Everything after that seemed a little extraneous, and I found his actual ending, an emphatic call to the altar for people to do good and treat others well, a little preachy and sentimental. He made that point earlier in the play, without being so obvious.
If you'd like to see McKean get "born again," and I suggest you do, he'll perform Born Again Yesterday Sunday, Nov. 22 at 7pm at Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St. Tickets are $10 at www.nightingaletehater.com or by calling 633-8666.
What is art? What isn't art? How far should one go for art? Those are the questions posed by Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things, presented by Odeum Theatre Company at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's Charles Norman Theatre, 110 E. Second St., Nov. 19-22.
Adam, played by David Lawrence, is a geeky, chubby museum guard who spots Evelyn, Erin Scarberry, with a can of spray paint. He admonishes her and simultaneously falls for her. As their relationship progresses, Adam begins changing dramatically, both in appearance and demeanor, which worries his close friends, Jenny and Phil, played by Cassie Hollis and Will Carpenter.
The company is billing the show as a "romantic comedy with a twist," according to director Whitson Hanna. It's style, fast-paced and talky, is similar to the company's debut play, David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow.
"The language is easy to follow and very funny," Hanna said. "It's eloquent and pushes some boundaries. Hopefully, the audience will walk out thinking and asking themselves, 'What just happened?'"
The Shape of Things plays Nov. 19-21 at 8pm and Nov. 22 at 2pm. Tickets are $25 and available by calling 596-7109. Patrons who reserve their tickets before midnight on Thursday, Nov. 20 by calling the number above will be able to purchase two tickets for the price of one. The discount is not available for walk-up sales or reservations made online. More information at www.tulsapac.com.
Also at the PAC this weekend, Theatre Tulsa and Clark Theatre continue their run of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. It plays Nov. 19-21 at 8pm in the Liddy Doenges Theatre. Tickets are $15. For more information, read "To the Heart of the Matter," in the Nov. 12-18 issue of UTW, at www.urbantulsa.com.
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