All the Word’s a Stage
One of the performers in Amphibian Stage Productions’ raucous, oddly endearing production of the comic revue The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) offers this jokey prayer: “May we be hysterical but not heretical.” Good luck with that one. Based on the snarky title of the show, you might wonder if The Bible will offend Christian or Jewish traditionalists, since it pokes relentless and unrepentant fun at the most controversial book in the Western canon.
Probably not. What audiences get is a cheeky, topical romp through the Old and New Testaments that leans heavily on the side of irreverence but doesn’t quite topple over into joyful blaspheming. The multi-talented trio of sock-and-sandal-clad actors in Amphibian’s staging — Luke Longacre, Brandon J. Murphy, and Scott Zenreich — come across as precocious junior high school boys whose unchecked impulses for mischief are thoroughly non-malicious. It’d feel almost mean to take anything they say or do in this staging too seriously.
The authors of The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) are the New York-based ensemble of Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor. Calling themselves Reduced Shakespeare Company, they’ve earned a national following for their neo-vaudevillian takes on everything from Shakespeare to American history to Broadway musicals –– targets that are big and imposing enough to offer two hours’ worth of sight gags, puns, slapstick, potty humor, and sexual innuendo on the subject matter.
Reduced Shakespeare is less interested in making partisan points about anything than in deflating pomposity and pretension, and that’s precisely the angle that Amphibian director Jay Duffer takes with his three actors. The only thing that gets seriously damaged in this show might be the baby doll prop frequently employed as a stand-in for everyone from Isaac to Jesus.
Believers, non-believers, and the many, many people in between should emerge with their worldviews relatively unscathed. That’s not to say political humor is entirely absent –– last Saturday night’s performance included references to Rick Perry, Paula Deen, and Wendy Davis. But for the most part the, ahem, spirit of the show is inclusive, which as much as the material itself was responsible for the many rapid-fire pleasures of the evening.
Act one of The Bible covers the Old Testament, while the second act, yep, treats the New Testament. The show sometimes goes surprisingly deep into the weeds of biblical minutiae, as when it offers a Schoolhouse Rock-style tune on how to tell the difference between the prophets Elijah and Elisha.
But mostly the performers stick to lampooning familiar Judeo-Christian memes, as when the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib is depicted as a sock puppet emerging Alien-style from the chest of an actor. The resurrection of Jesus comes in the form of an adorable Easter Bunny bearing “the good news” along with a basket of colored eggs. The evening’s biggest Bible story turns out to be its most audience-participatory: Ticketbuyers are plucked from their seats in pairs to play the animals rescued by Noah on his ark.
Truthfully, The Bible the parody –– much like the book itself –– could’ve turned tedious in short order if the right combination of interpreters hadn’t been chosen. Using their own names onstage, Murphy (the tall one), Zenreich (the short one), and Longacre (the bald one) establish themselves as comic characters with distinct personalities and ongoing bits of business. Zenreich clings ferociously to a Sunday school vision of The Good Book in which all stories end improbably in the land of milk and honey. Longacre is desperate to stage the sailing of Noah’s ark to highlight his own handmade wooden ark sculpture where animals are depicted in the act of “begetting.” Murphy plays the bearded wiseacre always ready with a withering one-liner.
Working together with unflagging chemistry, they raise Amphibian’s The Bible to heavenly heights of smart-assery.
The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)
Thru Aug 11 at Amphibian Stage Productions, 120 S Main St, FW. $25-30. 817-923-3012.