A fascinating voyage through the Bible rivaling in scope the RSC’s Nicholas Nickleby and Steppenwolf’s Grapes of Wrath.
New York Theater Review By Joel Benjamin
A five-and-a-half-hour play about the Bible? Could anything be more boringly right wing conservative? The miracle is that the Flea Theater’s The Mysteries, conceived and directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, sweeps away the mustiness and hype and makes the Bible not only exciting, but sensual and contemporary. These 54 actors and 48 playwrights have fashioned an epic in the same league as the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Nicholas Nickleby and the Steppenwolf’s Grapes of Wrath. The wisdom of the playwrights and the vivacity and dedication of this huge cast of very hardworking actors take the audience on this totally involving magic carpet ride. This panoply of well-worn, cliché-ridden mythology becomes a totally involving drama in the hands of this troupe.
The cozy, but malleable Flea Theater space has been re-formed with a large central space on either side of which are two long rows of seats. The perimeter of the area is defined by a wall made up of hundreds of hanging plastic strips, stained in blood red, behind which the actors, including a be-robed Angel Chorus move, sing and from which they make their entrances. (The scenic design is by Jason Sherwood. Its brilliant simplicity allows for the easy flow from one section of the play to another.)
Act I – The Fall begins with Creation and Lucifer’s fall from grace with God. Lucifer is played by a steady, radiant Asia Kate Dillon who reappears frequently to mix things up with earthlings and the rival angel, Gabriel, played by Alice Allemano makes goodness alluring. God is played by an extremely patient and multi-dimensional Matthew Jeffers whose sense of humor humanizes the Lord.
The Garden of Eden is portrayed poetically using nudity and delightful imagery. Eve (Alesandra Nahodil) and Adam (Jaspal Binning), both unabashedly innocent and then desperately confused, embody these mythical characters. Cain (Alex Seife) and Abel’s (Elijah Trichon) tale is told with passion and humor as is Abraham’s (Matthew Cox) story of the almost sacrifice of his child. Act I ends with the story of Moses. Act II – The Sacrifice is Jesus’s story made human by a beautiful and vivid Colin Waitt whose physical daring turns the Crucifixion into a work of art, helped by the music of David Dabbon and the dramatic lighting of Seth Reiser. Act III – The Kingdom is the most philosophical and gossipy section with the Apostles, the two Marys (Janice Amaya & Allison Buck, both moving and intelligent), Peter (Stephen Stout) and Paul (Jon Huggins) boldly spinning Jesus’ story into the beginnings of what we know as the modern Catholic Church.
It is impossible to mention all the splendidly committed actors and fine playwrights. The Mysteries is the sum of many parts. It may not always be fascinating, but it is always worthwhile. It will incite thoughts and emotions in a way that few other shows have, particularly this season. It’s equal parts profane and spiritual, paying respect for the source material all the while spinning it in multiple directions, causing heads and hearts to spin in resonance.
The audience is immersed in the action from beginning to end, even during the two intermissions when the generous—and appropriate—Middle Eastern meal is served by the cast members. It is vaguely unsettling to have Jesus hand you hummus and an angel your dessert baklava. The food is merely the icing on the voluptuous cake.
The Mysteries (through May 25, 2014)
The Flea Theater
41 White St. (between Broadway and Church St.)
New York, NY
Tickets: 866-811-3111 or www.ovationtix.com
More Information: www.theflea.org
Running Time: 5 ½ hours with two intermissions for dinner (served in the theater)