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NY Theater Reviews

Ken Jennings/ Ph: Maria Baranova

A DISCIPLE'S WORDS

By JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ

Although this solo piece is an earnest labor of love and faith, it’s not altogether persuasive dramatically.

Add The Gospel of John to the list of shows with biblical roots, a roster including the musicals Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. Before launching into his version of John’s distinctive religious text, Broadway veteran Ken Jennings, who originated the role of Tobias in Sweeney Todd, tells the audience that he first committed this gospel to memory “as a prayer” and then “as a performance.” While it’s easy to admire this roughly 110-minute solo piece at the Sheen Center through Jan. 5 as an earnest labor of love and faith, it’s not altogether persuasive as a fully dramatic and dynamically engaging evening.
 
Frills-free simplicity is the key to director John Pietrowski’s staging. Except for a wooden bench, the blond stage is bare. There’s a cream-colored drape. Occasional light and sound cues come and go. But it’s all about the text. Fitting, considering this disciple wrote: “In the beginning was the Word...” From there, Jennings, dressed in low-key jeans and a plaid shirt and often clutching a well-worn bible, recounts John’s take on the life of Christ – earthly ministries, unexpected miracles (turning water into wine, giving the blind the gift of sight and so on), crucifixion and resurrection.
 
Along the way, Jennings gives voice to Christ, his disciples and other figures – and the show could benefit from more vivid and nuanced shifts in characterizations. At some points, Jennings, who appeared to be running his lines in the theater before the show began, seemed a bit tentative. John’s gospel packs might and mystery but, when all is said and done, emerges here as monochromatic.