OTHER JESUS by Evan Webber (Public Recordings). At St. Matthews United Church (729 St. Clair West). Runs to May 14..
OTHER JESUS by Evan Webber (Public Recordings). At St. Matthews United Church (729 St. Clair West). Runs to May 14. $20-$25. publicrecordings.org. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Evan Webbers Other Jesus, performed inside an old church, depicts the rise to prominence of a spiritual teacher named Jesus in ancient Judea.
It would be easy to mistake this funny and thoughtful piece of experimental theatre for a meditation on theology, Christianity or faith. But it goes much deeper than that.
Webber has crafted his story like a Biblical Gospel to examine and experiment with how certain narratives can elevate their authors, shape communities and inspire collective action.
Set in a playful mixture of the ancient past and the present, Webbers bootleg gospel follows a radical teacher named Jesus (Ishan Dave) who, after initially being relegated to the market, begins to win important converts and funding and is invited into the temple.
On one level, the narrative examines how his new status affects his relationships with his original disciples, who accuse him of selling out and making his brand of resistance compatible with empire. On another, it explores how a system of belief and devotion can accrue around a personality (Jesus) and a set of related stories (miracles), and the promise and peril this can hold for a community.
By staging the action all around the cavernous church space, but mostly on a riser constructed to fit over top of a section of pews, director Frank Cox-OConnell deftly accentuates the plays Brechtian feel. Fun, cartoon-like crowd scenes, tongue-in-cheek comedic moments and characters symbolic hand gestures give the show a dreamlike quality.
Crafty prop and costume elements constructed from cardboard and fabric keep the production feeling big and vibrant enough for the massive space, as does the enchanting music produced at various moments by the ensemble on an array of instruments.
Even with experimental approaches and lots of philosophical subject matter, the show is still very accessible, although a working knowledge of Brecht and epic theatre will certainly help. Most shows with a clear political message are simply a call to action, but Other Jesus poses deeper questions of where, when, how and for whom acts of resistance should be staged.