I enter the Actors Art Theatre located on the ground floor of an active apartment building at 6128 Wilshire Blvd. near the corner of Fairfax and across from the esteemed 99 Cent store. I am already late for this evening’s performance, “The Life of Christ without Christ” put on by Savage Players. (Apparently Christ was equally not with me when I attempted to make a mass post 9-5 exodus from East Hollywood to the Mid-Wilshire district Rush Hour Standard Time.) I have to pee fairly badly, wax apologetic and ask where the water(-into-wine) closet is as my date goes and procures a glass. I am pointed down a hall leading to some telltale theatrical bleachers. The bathroom welcomes me just before I make the full and dramatic migration and I feel relieved even before fully entering. In it resides a book shelf, books, light fluffy towels a beautifully tiled floor and sink along with a full bathtub and shower. I toy with the idea of getting baptized a second time but figure the wine and crackers in the lobby will ritualistically suffice for the lack of Christ within the tonight’s missing Christ Chronicles…
Washing my hands (both literally and figuratively—of the pre-show bath/shower baptism notion), I alight the front row. Introductory music is performed by the lovely and talented guitar wielding Julia Keefe as she croons the words, “I am contaminated”. I think to tell her of the shower/bathtub in back but wash my hands further of it as the lights dim and writer/director Nate Rufus Edelman thanks us all for coming as he takes the stage. He further informs us that this evening’s proceeds–via Actors Art Theatre and Savage Players–go to Friends in Deed an organization designed to provide support and improve the quality of life for low income folks and the homeless in the Pasadena area.
The evening’s quadruplet of plays (co-directed by Angie Scott) explore most clever and intelligent biblical parody beginning with The Old Jew and the Writer by Dennis Safren wherein Moishe/Moses played by a stalwart Arnold Weiss sits on a bus bench next to a young WASPy writer played by a decidedly petulant Colin Simon.
Moishe-You a Jew?
Moishe-Oh that explains why I fell asleep in the first act (of your play)…You gay? …Just trying to give you hope…
Moishe continues on to explain that “only gays and Jews go to the theatre” and proceeds to assist our young writer in reworking his entire play as, “The ones who wrote the Bible know how to write…” Our young writer can only exclaim “Oh God bring me a bus!” until Moishe begins to make sense. Jesus then appears silently and out of nowhere to take Moishe’s place in order to assist with the second act unbeknownst to our enlightened but confused writer.
In Where’s Papa by Nate Rufus Edelman, a very visibly knocked up Mary played in earnest by Anne Elizabeth Butler is forced to disclose her pregnancy to a shockingly surprised Joseph played by Walter Gray IV. “I was going to take you on a honeymoon to Bethlehem. I hoped getting you out of Nazareth would help me deflower you… I have waited six years for you to ease up but it turns out I married the biggest whore in the Middle East.” Mary, steadfastly but confusedly admits, “I wish I could explain it…”
“Maybe I could be of some aid,” so enters a playboyish, Hawaiian shirt-clad God portrayed by a giddily game show host-like Colin Simon. First of all, “you wouldn’t understand the frustration of being a billion year-old virgin…”
A skeptical Joseph queries, “Isn’t adultery a sin?”
Mary-He is right God, you are a hypocrite!
God-Oh, I know I am (but) it’s not like I can be exiled to Hell…
To make up for Joseph’s six year loss, God ultimately awards them with an all expese paid honeymoon to Bethlehem.
In His Little Brother by Jacob Edelman, it is evident that God’s appropriately awarded honeymoon has paid off as it explores the life and times and overshadowed existence of Jesus’ little half brother Steven; played wonderfully rebelliously by the up-and-coming, unrecognizably accented Scottish Declan Michael Laird. He shirks his work. He loiters. He hangs out with Roman soldiers along with his rebel friend Ricky played wonderfully shadily by Derek Chariton who can only say of Jesus, “You know you really should get your brother to take a crack at those pimples.”
In order to escape this scrutiny Steven eventually declares, “I’m going to join the Roman Legion…The Romans see something and they take it. I’m gonna be exactly unlike my pussy brother. My motto: What would Jesus not do!”
Not until Jesus is crucified does Steven see the misdirection of his anger, hatred and affiliations. Steven’s duty to his brother is further actualized as he confesses to Ricky, “I saw him (Jesus) in my room this morning.” He then hands his best friend a painted egg admitting that it was a gift from the Lord himself. “Painted eggs, what’s that about? …Your brother was always weird Man…” quips Ricky.
The Crucifiction of Moe and Ira by Lynn-Steven Johanson, explores well…the crucifiction of Moe and Ira played hilariously, matter-of-factly by Grady Lee Richmond and Steve Gunning as they hang on crosses exchanging introductions, then making small talk:
-It’s the middle of the day.
-Feels very humid.
– You look like the type to burn easily.
-Guess it doesn’t matter now.
It is revealed that one is a revolutionary (aka clown), “I was arrested for being a revolutionary. The Romans have a broad definition of it. I’m a clown. If your act isn’t funny (they) stone you to death, if it is funny (they) stone you to death.”
The other was arrested for “urinating on Caesar” and writing his name on him before realizing who/what he was. The piece culminates in their egging on Roman guards in Aramaic by making the filthiest most insulting jokes their direction only to come to the realization that at least one understands what they are saying thusly fueling their possible and premature death!
The entire production lasts about an hour and I stay for at least one more imbibing the fine wine, refreshments and good fellowship of all present; writers, directors and actors. The green room, I discover, is the living room of the theatre’s owner Jolene Adams, sporting a kitchen off to the side. The actors’ bathroom–her personal powder room, and the stage; the adjacent apartment turned theatre leading to the bathtub clad bathroom that was my first immaculate reception. Christ or no Christ, this evening, its plays and its people have brought me entirely home and I highly recommend the warm cozy theatrical atmosphere in any viewing and performing capacity.
As Christ is risen and flown the coop, the aforementioned plays will no longer be performed but the theatre remains steadfast. For more information on Actors Art Theatre please visit: http://www.actorsart.com/
Information on Savage Players can be found at: http://www.savageplayers.com/