According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Under the Radar Festival: Church

Photo: Ryan Jensen

Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

Young Jean Lee's Church is not for those strong in theological spirit. Theater and art should be considered with an objective eye, but those who favor a Christian spirituality will find it difficult to divorce themselves from their sensitivities. With a format lifted straight from a typical Sunday Christian church service without any glaring nods to a specific denomination, Church peels through stereotypes and likenesses with what appears to be a desire to debunk and derisively analyze the rituals. The mockery is preempted by a rant in the darkness that lambastes audience members about their empty, worldly pursuits. It is as if a massaging of the brain is required without any visual stimulus in order to be fully receptive to the shenanigans that proceed.

Conducted in an interactive format with greeters and a call for prayer requests, there were mixed reactions at the performance I attended, ranging from guffaws to astonishment to outright offense. I fall in the latter category. The distorted testimonies (stories in which a Christian will account for how they came to Christ or why they need Christ in the first place) are spiritually disheartening, unimaginative and, I imagine, only appealing to those that are light on intellect. The vivid descriptions of drug cocktails and anonymous sex would make even Hunter S. Thompson blush. Ghastly songs are hidden under good vocals by Reverend Weena (Weena Pauly), Reverend Katy (Katy Pyle), and Reverend Katie (Katie Workum), but not even good tone and voice control can compensate for the lyrics. Reverend Jose (Brian Bickerstaff) delivers a nonsensical sermon that entices you with a hint of sincerity at first, but then spirals down into Donnie Darko, giant-rabbit type madness. Their version of ministering to the soul ensues with choreography by Faye Driscoll that seems poorly executed by Reverends Weena, Katy and Katie on purpose, and finally, the piece de resistance with a full, well-organized choir led by an embarrassingly provocative Choir Director Stephanie Pistello and competent Soloist Megan Stern.

The message here is freedom of individuality at the expense of organized religion. If Lee's goal is to question Christianity, she instead pillages it. If you're a Christian who attends services out of devotion rather than obligation, this show is not for you. It will grieve you. Apart from that, it is a silly spectacle 0f religious angst that's not worth the idiocies you need to wade through in order to hear the good harmonies, the only pearl of the production. If it's a good choir performance that you're seeking, however, that can be found in a multitude of places, including church, without the senseless sacrilege.
Through January 19th. THE PUBLIC THEATER -
425 Lafayette StreetTickets: $15 Click here to order tickets online Or call 212-967-7555 (Mon-Sun, 10AM-9PM)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Others who experiened this performance found it to inspire soul searching and open a whole new perspective on religion. The choir and choir director were brillantly celebratory and reminded me of the many hours spent as a teenager in my grandmother's church swinging with our church choir and feeling the spirit move all around and inside me. Young Jean Lee is a bright star and NY should look forward to seeing much more of her innovative and cutting edge work.