First, I want to give special thanks to my good friend (and pretty great director herself) Shannon Fillion who works at the New York Theatre Workshop and alerted me to Bowie’s presence at the show. Without her I would’ve missed two really great things. So thanks, Shannon.
Now to the show:
This holiday season, a jubilant cast of children celebrate the controversial Church of Scientology in uplifting pageantry and song. Portraying Tom Cruise, the intergalactic ruler Xenu and a dancing brain, among others, the large ensemble explains and dissects the actual teachings of Scientology against the candy-colored backdrop of a traditional nativity play.This description pretty much says it all, but doesn’t capture the pure joy and earnestness of the child actors in performing their roles. They communicated the odd, deadpan humor of writer Kyle Jarrow without fail, and maintained a perfect blend of “character” and “self” that makes theatre so compelling for me. The children knew what they were doing was funny, and they seemed to know that they were being laughed at, ever so slightly, as well. But rather then bother them, the children converted this (as children tend to do) into energy for being even more crazy, more absurd, more hilarious. They did, however, manage to pull off the whole “pageant” thing as honestly as Scientologist children might.
Avant-garde performance art and children's theater meet in one of the funniest and most bewildering holiday shows you will ever see: the OBIE Award-winning ironic masterpiece A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant.
The music in this show is masterly written, and some of the performers have genuine vocal talent. But one of the strongest moments comes when one particularly talented vocalist and performer is made to lip sync to a darkly emotional and stirring ballad about giving her life over to someone else. The voice is, of course, that of the actor portraying L. Ron Hubbard, and he joins in toward the end of the song, completing the transformation, and securing the transaction of her life (and money!) for the gifts of his teaching. Creepy. And awesome.
The Pageant followed the life of L. Ron Hubbard, from his humble birth in a manger of sorts, through his service in the war, and the ultimate success of his Church. He travels to Hawaii, New York City, and China in his attempts to find out the mysteries of life, and again later to preach his message of “the removal of the reactive mind.” Actors portray robots, the alien Prince Xenu, a giant brain, famous celebrities (Travolta, Alley, Cruise) and a number of other oddities through the course of the 55-minute performance, which is narrated, quite appropriately, by a young Angel.
Experimental theatre for kids. It is lovely. Far too often, directors for the stage fail to take child actors seriously, giving them poor roles and failing to challenge them as actors and as individuals. How many horrible productions are done yearly by every primary school in the country? I shudder to think. It is refreshing to see so much faith put in the children’s abilities, and to see them challenged in a number of ways. This, for me, is nothing less than the respect they deserve. Why must they constantly be belittled by directors and playwrights? They are already little enough, for Hubbardsakes!
Though this show is not perfect (and I don’t think I want it to be), you’d be hard pressed to find a better holiday pageant to attend this season. And I think that goes for experimental theatre, as well. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and now have a thorough understanding of the Church of Scientology.
Perhaps not as much as if I got a stress test done in the Times Square subway station, or went to watch the 15 minute film on Dianetics at their building on West 46th Street (both things I want to do, but not alone). I just don’t know if I’m “Clear” enough to be able to handle that without giving in and signing up.
Especially since I am spiritually lost these days. It could be trouble.