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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
PASSION PLAY
at the Irondale Arts Center

JESUS IS MY TIME-TRAVELING COPILOT
By SANDY MACDONALD

  Hale Appleman and Kate Turnbull/ Ph: Carol Rosegg

Religious fervor aside, what would motivate simple villagers to recreate the life of Christ if not their yearning to brush up, however briefly, against greatness? You can experience much the same grandeur by traipsing out to the Irondale Arts Center in Brooklyn (a rehabbed 19th-century Sunday school) to observe the Epic Theatre Ensemble, under Mark Wing-Davey’s masterful direction, taking on Sarah Ruhl’s tripartite Passion Play.
 
The vast space, with its crumbling murals, couldn’t be more evocative; nor could the arte povera approach of using wheeled packing crates as a cleverly adaptable set (credit goes to Allen Moyer and Warren Karp) be more apropos.
 
Ruhl’s juxtaposition of religion vis a vis government at a trio of key junctures – rural England in 1575, Oberammergau in 1934, and South Dakota in 1969 and 1984 – certainly bespeaks a grand plan, and the result is packed with insightful sociopolitical observations, subtly couched aslant. What’s even more appealing, the scenarios she presents in support of her theses are charmingly homespun and, in the parlance of our own era, very “relatable.”
 
It’s the backstage stories that capture and keep one’s rapt attention – for instance, the bit of fateful miscasting that has the Elizabethan Virgin Mary (restless Kate Turnbull) prowling the woods in search of corporeal communion while Mary Magdalene (a chaste and studious-seeming Nicole Wiesner) professes her utter cluelessness as to the appeal of sex, especially as it applies to males. As the two players become confidantes and the spheres of performance and real life begin to overlap, it’s soap opera in the best sense.
 
Similarly paired throughout the three eras are Hale Appleman as the golden boy always picked to play Jesus, and the phenomenal Dominic Fumusa as his seemingly cursed counterpart, a natural-born Pontius. Fumusa brilliantly conveys the gnawing disease that is envy, and the final act, in which he portrays a schizoid Vietnam vet, would satisfy as a play unto itself.
 
The whole three-and-a-half-hour experience – punctuated by hilarious visitations by T. Ryder Smith as, serially, Queen Elizabeth, Adolf Hitler, and Ronald Reagan – is absolutely captivating. With any luck, Passion Play will be revived regularly, just like its inspiration. Still, it’s hard to imagine an incarnation superior to the present offering.
 

 


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