Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Honest-to-God True Story of the Atheist

Don't let the flimflam, vaudeville, exaggeration, or absurd plot shifts of The Honest-to-God True Story of the Atheist fool you. Dan Trujillo's an incredibly sharp playwright, conflating the cures of the Church with those of a Viagra huckster ("It'll put the stone/in your bone) in an opening so grossly comic that it makes the underlying conceit all the more subtle. Everyone--even the most ardent Atheist--believes in something, it's just a question of what, and by playing up the nature of plays (i.e., nothing is real and yet belief sustains the illusion), Trujillo succeeds in making an entertaining narrative about the desecration of a baby Jesus statue not into a question of faith, but of what faith is.

The play is well-served by director Isaac Butler's familiarity with both the playwright and actors, for the writing requires flawless shifts between the presentational and the intimate. Not only do all three actors (Daryl Lathon, Abe Goldfarb, and Jennifer Gordon Thomas) have the range necessary to switch from mock-selves ("slapstick realism," if you will, concerning a pissed off Jen and her arsenal of gag weapons) to colorful characters (watch Abe's head explode as he yells "stupid fools"), but they look as if they've doing this show for years. There are only a few places that look under-rehearsed, and that's the fault of unavoidable technical cues in the Under St. Mark's space that fail to capture the "universe-altering" magic that's interrupting the "show."

Everywhere else--even when speaking in tongues--The Honest-to-God True Story of the Atheist remains thoroughly engaging. The pace of the show helps, with the actors not only quickly transitioning between styles, but between their dramatization of The Atheist's downfall, and their running commentary on it. ("Crazy." "Yeah." "Sad, too." "A little funny." "But sad." "Mostly crazy.") This glib buoyancy is what helps Trujillo to zing us all, with interesting religious arguments (e.g., the existence of cold, dark, or evil) sandwiched between sight gags, like the "unbroken" egg (whoops) or Daryl's "magic coat."

A professor of mine once said that the purpose of comedy was to lift the weight of the world off one's shoulders, if only for a moment. There are many who find that same release in religion. How appropriate, then, to find a show willing to try both at once: that's a medicine worth taking.

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