BIGGER THAN JESUS created by Rick Miller and Daniel Brooks, directed by Brooks, with Miller. Presented by Necessary Angel in association with Factory Theatre at the Factory Mainspace (125 Bathurst). Runs to December 12, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday and December 11 at 2 pm. $25-$34, Sunday pwyc-$20, stu/srs discount. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Though it's filled with biblical quotes and passages from centuries-old Catholic liturgy, the most splendid and - well, catholic - thing about Bigger Than Jesus is that it speaks to the encompassing spirit rather than what is for some the strict letter of Christianity.
Co-created by performer Rick Miller and director Daniel Brooks , Bigger Than Jesus is built on the form of a Catholic mass, which, as Miller explains to non-Catholics like me, is a celebration of Christ. It's also, importantly, an echo of the Last Supper, and the piece deals splendidly with the all-inclusive theme of that final bread-breaking among Christ and his followers.
The charismatic Miller - himself 33, like JC - becomes our Jesus and, as he puns, our host for the evening. Early on, as a New Yawk-toned teacher, he guides us through the history and importance of storytelling in the building up of the legend that lies at the base of Christianity. Among other things, he presents an explanation of how one average Jewish guy became the centre of a religion that has had its moments of profound anti-Semitism.
Later, as a Southern-style evangelist minister, he encourages us to celebrate individuality and imagination, and in another segment takes us on a miracle-filled flight on Air Jesus, complete with prayer-cam segments that give us insights into passengers' inner hopes and fears.
Outrageously clever bits include drawing parallels between the Beatles and the writers of the Gospels and a Last Supper filled with action figures and icons of Western culture.
Loaded with humour, dramatic intensity and even moments of horror - Mel Gibson doesn't have the market cornered on the Passion's shocking elements - Bigger Than Jesus is anchored by Miller's winning performance, which moves from energetic hijinks to serene contemplation under Brooks's careful direction.
Very much a 21st-century multimedia production, it also benefits from Beth Kates 's environment design and sound and video by Ben Chaisson . A simple white set has never taken on so many tones, never become such a universal, embracing space.
Don't hesitate if you have no link to religion. There's a spiritual quality in the work, sure, but it's a universal one.
There isn't a more invigorating, thoughtful and exciting piece of theatre in Toronto.