NY Theater Review JK Clarke
“Two men say they’re Jesus, one of them must be wrong.”
— “Industrial Disease” Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits)
Well, in this case it’s three men claiming to be Jesus, and it’s a pretty sure bet all three are wrong. 3Christs, is written by SM Dale and Barry Rowell and based on social psychologist Milton Rokeach’s 1959-61 study of three institutionalized, delusional patients, as described in the 1964 book, The Three Christs of Ypsilanti. In it, Rokeach tests the patients’ boundaries by putting them together for nearly two years and observing how they dealt with issues of identity since they all claimed to be the same, historically and culturally vital personage. A study lauded for its daring in a period when psychological practices fell just short of medieval, it is also noted for Rokeach’s unethical manipulations of the subjects, particularly his encouragement of and collusion with their delusions. Ultimately, despite its lack of real scientific value, it becomes a detailed and in depth observation of the three men.
From a source standpoint, 3Christs the play has everything it takes to be a fascinating and compelling production. Alas, the script falls so far short that the details become lost and, hence, uninteresting. Clocking in at nearly two hours without an intermission (were they afraid people would leave? many certainly wanted to), the piece is rife with repetition, unnecessary extraneous detail, and meandering storyline. It starts well enough, as the three Christs are advised by Dr. Milton (Christopher Hurt) and Nurse Porter (Catherine Porter) of their inclusion in the study, one that Dr. Milton suggests will help them “come to a better understanding of [themselves].” What follows is a series of sessions over days, weeks and months in which the patients are subjected to questions about their lives and personal identities, made to explain their roles and purposes (as Christ, in particular), and asked to work together on various projects. The men react as severely mentally ill patients would: with bizarre, pointless diatribes; catastrophic anxiety and emotional attacks; and, even with attempts (albeit misaligned) to connect to the “real” world. Following a period in which Dr. Milton subjects the patients to a series of stressful encounters and interactions, Nurse Porter finally steps in and objects, threatening to quit.
Ultimately the point of the play is to demonstrate that Dr. Milton’s callous treatment of the Jesuses eventually gives way to empathy and an understanding that they are beyond reasoning with. The patients are the redeeming portion of the play. We can particularly connect to Donald Warfield’s excellent representation of the old, dishevelled Clyde Benson. He is utterly convincing as the lost, unhinged mental patient that he is. And Arthur Aulisi as Joseph Cassel and and Daryl Lathon as Leon Gabor play their Jesuses well. Kia Rogers’ and Rebecca Philips’ lighting and set work provide a powerful scenic backdrop, too.
Despite these various strong points, the piece simply falls apart because it lacks a straightforward, cohesive storyline and could use a severe editing session (which would help the several actors who forgot—to such a degree that it became unacceptable, particularly for a piece featuring Equity actors—their lines again and again). While Peculiar Works Project, the producers behind 3Christs, pride themselves on site specific, multi-disciplinary performances, they seem to have a tendency toward plotless, repetitive and drawn out productions, such as last year’s insufferable Manna-Hatta, which dragged audiences through the Farley Post Office punctuated with pointless, banal scena. For their next production, they would do well to procure a good editor or different writers. 3Christs had enormous potential, some superb acting and a lovely set, but was waylaid by repetition and lack of a direct message. One might even say it was as misguided as three men in a room claiming to be Jesus.
3Christs. Through September 28 at Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South (at Thompson Street). www.peculiarworks.org
Photos: Jim R. Moore