Review: The Terms of My Surrender

This show goes unexpectedly very gay at the end. No Michael Moore isn’t gay (heaven forfend), but there are several delicious, completely apolitical, payoffs at the finale, which made this an even more satisfying evening for me. The Terms of My Surrender was already pretty satisfying, as I am definitely a part of the anti-Trump choir that Moore is preaching to in this often funny, often disturbing dolled-up political rally.

Because, make no mistake about it, much of Terms is what you’d expect: an anti-Trump screed, by turns despairing and gleeful. But ultimately it is more than that, it’s a call to action in the most general of terms. Moore exhorts his audience to get involved in the political process any way they can, and uses stories from his own life – mostly from before his career as a famous filmmaker and author – to drive home the truth that one person can make an enormous difference, and you don’t have to be famous or wealthy to do it. Moore’s own journey began with a trip to a vending machine to get a bag of Ruffles chips; beginnings don’t get more humble than that.

He even gives you a remarkably easy way to begin making that difference, which I will link to here: the website and app 5calls.org. Together with Moore, I urge you to go there now and start being part of the solution. And definitely go see Terms of My Surrender, it is a marvelous and surprisingly entertaining bit of encouragement in these dark days. Recommended.

Remember, 5calls.org!

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: The Testament of Mary

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If you you know Fiona Shaw only from her film work, then you don’t know Fiona Shaw. Her overpoweringly impressive solo performance in The Testament of Mary is – I’ll just say it – searingly brilliant. I’ve quipped to people who enthuse about “searing” performances that I’d rather theatre not burn me. However, if it’s done as expertly as Shaw does it, I truly have no complaints.

The Testament of Mary takes place many years after the Crucifixion. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is in the city of Ephesus where two men, presumably St. Paul and St. Peter, both guard and protect her. Resisting the too-unearthly shape they are giving to her son’s story, Mary tells her own version.

Playwright Colm Tóibín has crafted a very human Mary who is more disturbed than moved by her son’s faith healing, and is even more disturbed by the thought of what’s going to happen to him when the Roman occupiers get wind of his revolutionary spiritual teachings. This Mary is emphatically a concerned mother, and as such takes a very dim view of her son’s oversized claims and ambitions.

It’s a very provocative take, that might even be considered blasphemous in some more conservative corners. Shaw leans into the humanity of this woman, throwing chairs and ladders about to underline her frustrated fury and rage.

The most interesting description I ever heard of postmodernism was from writer Umberto Eco, something to effect that a good faith postmodernist feels that they have history under their belt – rather than weighing down on their backs, as it did for modernists like Samuel Beckett. Well, taking it a degree further, I’d say Mary director Deborah Warner has theatrical postmodernism under her belt rather than weighing on her back – her staging owes much to postmodernists like Robert Wilson or Heiner Müller, but she and Shaw wear it much more lightly than their predecessors, and use it in a way that is much more expressive.

I might not recommend this to the more hidebound variety of Christian, but anybody outside of that group will find a great deal to appreciate in this daring and exquisitely executed portrait of a woman dealing with more than any person should have to face.

For tickets, click here.

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar

I’ve always preferred the early “rock operas” of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to Webber’s later Rice-less musicals. So I’m thrilled that Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita are back on the boards this season. And with director Des McAnuff’s lean and propulsive production of Superstar, so far one out of the two is strongly represented on the Main Stem.

Of course the title is a bit of a cheat; Superstar actually focuses on Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would ultimately betray Jesus. The musical is based very loosely on the Gospels’ account of the last week of Jesus’ life.

One of McAnuff’s more prominent gifts as a director is his ability to keep things kinetic and moving, and that’s true in spades here. Choreographer Lisa Shriver kicks it up even further, taking his stage pictures and animating them with incredibly energetic rhythm. The metallic spareness of Robert Brill’s set, together with Howell Binkley’s expressionistic lights, reinforces the “rock concert” atmosphere.

Webber’s music for Superstar is full of youthful vitality (he was 21 when the hit concept album was released in 1969), and it is powerfully sung by an appropriately young cast. The parts of Jesus and Judas were originally sung by proto-heavy metal screamers Ian Gillian and Murray Head, respectively. This production’s Paul Nolan (Jesus) and Josh Young (Judas) have similarly titanium-plated high tenor voices – they match Gillian and Head for passion, and exceed them for musicality, expression and precision.

This production’s Mary Magdelene, Chilina Kennedy, gives a movingly understated interpretation of the show’s big hit “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”. McAnuff has also given her character some interesting interactions with Judas that deepen the most underwritten of the three leads, and she plays it well.

There’s been some say that this production isn’t campy enough. To which I say, if you are coming to Superstar for camp, oh honey you are barking up the wrong tree. There is only one intentionally campy song in the whole show, “Herod’s Song”, and even that has a bit of a dark, vicious edge. Any other camp that one might find here comes from the fact that the show is so earnestly serious.

I am the first to defend intentional camp that is intelligently done. But as a director I have to say that condescending to the material you are working on is never a good choice. McAnuff rightly runs with Superstar‘s hard-driving seriousness, and it’s actually a much more entertaining production for that very reason.

For tickets, click here.