- OTHER MEDIA
- War, slavery and Jesus take a dip in old man river
- Theater Review by Robert Hurwitt, SF Chronicle
- The mighty Mississippi doesn't just flow in Marcus Gardley's impressive
"... And Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi": It undulates, narrates,
entices, floods, beatboxes and sings traditional spirituals like an angelic
female chorus. And, yes, when the time comes, Jesus can moonwalk with the
- A hugely ambitious, wildly irreverent mini-epic, "Jesus"
opened Friday at Exit on Taylor as a co-production of Cutting Ball Theater
and the Playwrights Foundation, directed by the latter's artistic director,
Amy Mueller. It's the kind of unruly gumbo of concentrated poetry, outrageous
puns and wicked stereotypes for 12 actors that needs more than one producer.
If the world premiere has its uneven and underdigested elements, it's an
exciting and for the most part fulfilling event.
- It's also an eye-opener for those who know Gardley's work only through
his more prosaic local history plays for Shotgun Players. "Jesus"
combines an intensely personal wrestle with the immediate legacy of slavery
during the Civil War with a religious quest in a freewheeling ricochet
of metaphors and a mashup of stereotypes reminiscent of Suzan-Lori Parks.
- Set during a turning point in the Civil War and played on a deceptively
versatile bare-plank stage (by Michael Locher), "Jesus" is the
fragmented but linear three-day odyssey of two men from the Siege of Vicksburg
to the Verse plantation in southern Louisiana. Both are seeking the same
woman, who's no longer there.
- Aldo Billingslea, who anchors the production with the charismatic force
of his understated determination, is the escaped slave Damascus, lynched
and converted into the goddess Demeter, unable to die or rest before he's
reunited with his woman. David Sinaiko is plantation owner Jean Verse,
a trickster Confederate Army deserter, heading home to his slave mistress
with a captured hapless excuse for a Union soldier (Zac Schuman as Yankee
Pot Roast) in tow.
- Their scenes alternate with the densely poetic interpolations and full-bodied
songs of Miss Ssippi (Nicole C. Julien) and her river choir, led by musical
director Erica Richardson. And, more centrally, with scenes at the Verse
plantation, where names are puns, and out-of-control belle Cadence (Jeanette
Harrison) awaits her husband with her supposed identical twin girls (most
alike in being hard to understand). Blanche Verse (ouch) is a white tomboy,
fiercely played by Sarah Mitchell. Free (Erika A. McCrary) uses whiteface
to cover her African complexion and hangs out with her invisible friend
Jesus (a shamanic David Westley Skillman).
- There are also liquid movement passages (choreographed by Rami Margron)
and uncomfortably shuffle-and-hambone turns, well performed by Martin F.
Grizzell Jr. but not quite integrated dramatically. In an August Wilson
twist, the drama centers on Demeter, Jesus and Free, and her choice between
the songs (faiths) of her ancestors. The impact of Gardley's drama lies
in how well Free lives up to her name