Nothing's sacred in PerfNet's satire on religion, apocalypse
By CHRISTOPHER POTTER
NEWS ARTS WRITER
Was George Washington an Illuminati?
Could be, considering his pleas to “avoid entangling alliances” with other nations. After all, wouldn’t that pose a threat to Illuminati world rule?
So it goes in “Some Things You Need to Know Before the World Ends (A Final Evening with the Illuminati”), which opened last night at Performance Network. Verbose Reverend Eddie (Rick Sperling) believes in Illuminati conspiracies, yet he’s not an objective source seeing as how he suspects the centuries-old Illuminati - a.k.a. The Men in Black Suits, a.k.a. THEM - have recruited practically everyone.
Yet “everyone” doesn’t mean too much, since most humans have been killed by nerve gas in an unspecified war or chemical catastrophe. The last sanctuary on earth may well be the dilapidated church that Rev. Eddie and his crippled, hunchbacked acolyte Brother Lawrence (Kristopher Walby) call home.
This vision of apocalypse demands an arena of paranormality, since Larry Larson and Levi Lee’s culture-conscious comedy-tragedy-satire-fantasy is calculatedly nuts. Directed with true sass by Annette Madias, the play takes the exceedingly loose form of a church service, with the audience as the congregation. Rev. Eddie’s sermon: “Life is Like a Basketball Game.”
Almost contrarily, we don’t get to hear the sermon until play’s end. Yet “Some Things...” is positively stuffed with slapstick, comedy schtick, heavenly visions, Hellish visions, off-key songs, paranoia, religious dogma, anti-religious dogma, basketball, football, even audience harassment. All in fun, of course.
Call it end-of-the-world shock. Rev. Eddie is a truly angst-driven man, whether draped in religious robes or clad in salmon-hued long underwear. His church lights flicker and die: “I’m not afraid of the dark!” he bellows at THEM. “I’ve had some wonderful times in the dark!”
Reciting the 23rd Psalm, Rev. Eddie improvises “For The Lord is with me. AND I AM HEAVILY ARMED!” Passing collection baskets among the audience, he’s aghast to receive not money but candy wrappers (“It ain’t even a candy bar!"). Demanding the house lights be lit, Eddie orders Lawrence to search the “congregation” - which he obediently does, pausing to insult a woman’s handbag.
“Some Things..." takes no prisoners, commencing with Larson and Lee’s schizoid religious setting. The church (spookily designed by Juliana Haubrich) seems Roman Catholic, darkly aglow with candles and packed with icons including a large crucifix bearing a Christ drawn out of Charles Addams.
Yet twangy Rev. Eddie seems pure Bible-thumping Southern Baptist; ditto Lawrence, a Deep South cracker despite his Igor-like hunchback. One moment Eddie is extolling “The One True Church:" the next he and Lawrence are singing (?) a blasphemous ditty, “Jesus was a Lutheran."
In a vision, Eddie chokes on a communion wafer while black-hooded Death (Walby) gulps the communion wine. Eddie and Lawrence do a bizarre genuflection dance that mutates into a football game. While an organ plays “The Victors," quarterback Eddie calls Biblical signals: "Mark! Matthew! Luke! John 3:16!”
Near show’s end the preacher goes one-on-one with Death in basketball (Take that, Ingmar Bergman!), only to discover his opponent plays dirtier than Bill Laimbeer ever did.
As usual Sperling is a marvel, investing Eddie with a mad driven passion whether carrying a backboard and hoop like a cross or whipping himself with a flagellation bicycle (Don’t ask - go see). Indeed, much of the satire in “Some Things...” probes Catholic notions of earthly pain as a means of purification. When Eddie accidentally shoots Lawrence in the thumb, the latter’s anguish amounts to a blessed event since hurting oneself is “to be on the team."
Such moments are literally wincing, which was obviously the devilish intent of the playwrights. Yet satirical attacks on Church bias against women turn heavy-handed. and I remain unconvinced the play’s finale isn’t an all-God’s-chillen copout.
Yet when it clicks, “Some Things..." is a blasphemous howler (Does God drive a ’59 Cadillac El Dorado?). Freely adapted by Madias and her cast, the show deserves better than last night’s audience, which mostly sat on its hands through assorted . movie send-ups and some choice mala- ' propisms (“I meant that metaphysically." says Eddie, meaning “metaphorically").
Walby offers a gently-crafted turn as mostly (if not literally) straight-man of Lawrence, a perfect laconic partner-foil for the messianic mania of Sperling’s Eddie. I’d pay simply to participate in the “Responsive Reading.” Rev. Eddie: "Therefore we will have an intermission.” Congregation: “It is about time." Rev. Eddie: “There are bathrooms down the hall.” Congrega- , tion: “Many of us have need of them." ‘ Blessed are the relief-makers.
"Some Things..." will continue through Aug. 31 at Performance Network, 408 W. Washington St. Curtain is 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 7 p.m Sunday. For tickets and information call 663-0681.