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Friday, December 13, 2013

Jesus, BC: Re-Gift of the Magi

Patrick Pizzolorusso as Joshua.
Re-Gift of the Magi, by Janet Hopf. Directed by Greg Cicchino. Featuring Steven Bidwell, Kirk Gostkowski, Nicholas Alexiy Moran, Patrick Pizzolorusso, and Megan Sass. Currently running at The Chain Theatre through December 21st, 2013.

As the lights dim, our friendly voiceover asks us the age-old question - What would Jesus do? And he answers, "He would turn off his cell phone." And thus we are thrown back to the days of the early New Testament - with more than a hint of modern flavor thrown in. Jesus may have grown up in the single digits of recorded years AD, but Joshua - a sweet-faced 28-year-old southern messiah - is a man for all times.

As directed by Greg Cicchino, Magi has the air of a traveling troupe of players: an economic basic set with drawn-on clay bricks and interchangeable clapboard backgrounds - changed by the players themselves - hosts the five actors playing thirteen characters, all in brightly-colored costumes by Samantha Newby. And with tongues firmly planted in cheek, our players make more than one anachronistic nod in pretty much every direction. The story follows Joshua in his wandering years - after losing his job, he decides to seek out the three magi who witnessed his birth, meeting along the way the Prodigal Son, a Pretty Good Shepherd - with a pretty good lamb puppet - and a Roman Tax Collector (all three played by Steven Bidwell, for the record). With each new person he meets, Joshua grows in wisdom and understanding, trying to help all he can, even in his naivete. The story climaxes when he, with two of the magi backing him up, finally locates the third magus's widow. There he must reconcile with the consequences of his existence, as his birth and Gaspard's search for him have wrought nothing but tragedy upon Gaspard's wife. As his story concludes, Joshua is able to return each of his gifts to its original magus - myrrh to Melchior, frankincense to Gaspard's widow, and gold to Balthazar for his daughter's dowry. And as Joshua returns home to Galilee, tired but wiser, he goes with his cousin John the Baptist down to the River Jordan, to begin ... well, the Gospels.



The cast is clearly having a great time playing - Kirk Gostkowski doing his best Clint Eastwood growl-and-scowl, Nicholas Alexiy Moran as the friendliest entrepreneur-turned-alcoholic around, Megan Sass and Steven Bidwell shining in a hefty handful of roles apiece (with a different accent for each), and Patrick Pizzolorusso as the earnest straight man to them all.

Where the play falls short is in some of its dialogue. While it's clearly written to be family-friendly (people are called pains in the donkey, rather than the other thing, and the most risque we get with the Harlot is a scalp massage), it seems some of the jokes are playing it a bit safe, too - at least in terms of variety of gag. The voiceover narration between scenes starts to feel a little stale as time runs on, and a little like the remnant of a previous prose version of the story. The running joke of the genteel-southern-accented Joshua and his mother throwing Yiddish slang into their conversation (because hey, they were Jewish), elicits a chuckle, but an awkward one - the words don't flow as smoothly or honestly as, say, Melchior's repeated growls or his calling everyone he meets dummy (the best scene break is probably Melchior's exclamation, "I'll tell what's wrong, dummy! You're the friggin' King of the Jews!"). In general, though the structure is solid and methodical, the jokes are uneven.

But when they land, they land well, as evidenced in the Pretty Good Shepherd (I swear, that's how the program names him) and his penchant for inadvertently quoting Christmas carol lyrics as part of his regular conversation. This play will no doubt do well as a seasonal regional production.
Patrick Pizzolorusso, Megan Sass, and Kirk Gostkowski as
Joshua, A Harlot, and Melchior.

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