Screwball Fun from Genesis to The Last Supper
Reviewed by Barry Eitel
As evident by the enormous controversy triggered by Notre Dame selecting President Obama to speak at their commencement ceremony, the Judeo-Christian religious views that have shaped Western civilization for the past 2000 years are still very much a force in our lives. And like any institution that has been around for that long, the history, thought, and tradition of Judeo-Christianity are easy targets for parody. Ouroboros Theatre Company takes aim at Christianity’s holiest text and best-selling book in history, the Bible, in their production of The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged), originally created by the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Tucked away in the intimate Heartland studio theatre (map) in Rogers Park, the three person cast puts on a vaudevillian type show that blends jokes, audience participation, smatterings of improv, and plenty of Cubs references into a decently funny hour and a half journey through the Bible.
Just to be clear, this ain’t The Da Vinci Code. Nobody should expect to leave the show with a deeper grasp of the Holy Bible. The three performers, straight-man Chase McCurdy, childlike Michael Herschberg, and acerbic Lindsey Pearlman, guide and acknowledge the audience through their irreverent re-envisioning of the Bible. The play feels like an PG-13 episode of “Veggie Tales” combined with a vastly misinformed theology lecture; the actors address the audience in-between short vignettes. Director Ron Keaton ripened the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s script with nods to current events and local flavor. Some of these topical jokes fare well (Facebook, David Letterman, Blagojevich), while others fall flat (parking meters, Cranium, and far too many Chicago baseball jokes). Most of the humor actually isn’t contained in the text, but in the actors’ reactions to the fact that the comedy isn’t of the highest denomination. You can tell that everyone on stage is having a really good time, and their energy passes onto the audience well.
The problem with the show is that there are many unrealized conventions. The set is far too intricate for a play requiring barely any scenic elements at all. The centerpiece of the stage is a giant book plastered with the show’s title; I really wished the pages could’ve actually been turned, Monty Python and the Holy Grail-style. Instead, the production relies on what seems like an endless supply of props, including a reproduction of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper with the faces cut out, a Rastafarian wig, and fish puppets. Fortunately for everyone involved, the props are used well and the show never strays into lame Carrot Top territory. Some opportunities are missed—while discussing the Resurrection of the Lord, Chase appears in an Easter Bunny costume, but the real comedy comes from the fact that the costume is split down the back to fit the corpulent actor. But he never shows off his backside, throwing away a great potential joke. Another underused asset is musical director Joanna Lind, who is perched with her keyboard above the action on a rock. Dressed in an angel costume, she provides the music and is occasionally engaged by the other actors as a divine authority figure. Although her playing abilities are fine, her character is never fully realized, which feels like another missed opportunity for the production. The trio also has a few timing and delivery issues, but they rapidly fire joke after joke so the duds don’t derail the production. With a little less focus on over-rehearsed bits and a little more freedom and improvisation, this show could’ve been even funnier.
It is clear that the goal of this production is to have fun, and it definitely succeeds (how could one go wrong with Supersoakers?). If you are in the mood for a screwball approach to the most influential book in the history of the world, Ouroboros Theatre serves it up with plenty of gags, goofy props, and pokes at the Book of Job.
Now playing at:
Ouroboros Theatre Company
When: May 28 : 8 p.m.
Sundays and Saturdays : 2 p.m. (ends June 7)
Fridays and Saturdays : 8 p.m. (ends June 7)
- Ouroboros Theatre Company’s mission and info after the fold.
The Mission of Ouroboros Theatre Company
To Re-Ignite the Art of Storytelling
Ouroboros Theatre Company continually returns to the basic principal that live theatre exists to tell stories. We strive to create a shared event that elevates the personal and collective human experience. We are committed to theatre that contributes in an active way to the development and enrichment of our society.
Commitment to Our Artists, Audience and Community
We promise excellence and honesty. We foster an environment of creativity, trust and respect. We exist because of the dedication to our belief that the theatre is a “sacred place” of expressing, learning, escaping and inspiring. Company members are encouraged to work with and learn from as many different sources as possible to continue to stretch beyond personal and professional boundaries. We seek talented and diverse guest artists to collaborate with our company, thus continuing the cycle of constant development.
We encourage audience and community feedback so that we can continually provide theatre that is relevant and fulfilling. We build symbiotic relationships with other theatres, cultural venues, funding sources and the public at large to assist in meeting challenges in the areas of theatre space, affordable marketing, financial support for artists and projects and other important issues as they arise.
What is an Ouroboros?
The Ouroboros is an ancient archetypal symbol that is present in many different cultures. The rejoining serpent illustrates conflict and resolution in a single image, embodying the entire life cycle. It represents the journey of mankind as a series of inter-connected relationships. We are born from nature and so we mirror it. We create history and we repeat it. We live, die and live again as a race, within societies and as individuals.
Below you will find a collection of images and web-links which further explain the long, and varied use of this symbol throughout the world. The Ouroboros has meant many things, to many different people. Some of these viewpoints are reflected in our central mission of exploring the beginnings, endings, and all that falls in between on the journey of humanity.