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Captain of the Bible Quiz Team
There are two occasions during Captain of the Bible Quiz Team when a member of the audience might hear his or her name read from the stage. We have been warned that this will happen and instructed to rise in acknowledgement when it does. In one situation, the recognition would be seriously discomforting; in another, exactly the opposite. The playwright, Tom Jacobson, has made a deliberate choice, essentially casting us in his work and assigning us a position on a side of an argument.
Jacobson pulls off a rather clever feat with this play masquerading as a sermon — or vice versa. Via seven short sermons, Pastor Landry Sorenson, pinch-hitting priest at Kandota Lutheran Church in Little Sauk, Minnesota, takes us on a riveting personal and spiritual journey. Rogue Machine Theatre and director Michael Michetti stage the world premiere of Jacobson's fourth-wall-shattering play in a series of churches. We sit not in seats but in pews, not as an audience but as congregants. We are invited to join in on the hymns, which many people do.
A still-in-training Landry has returned to his hometown church to take care of his dying father, who is the church's beloved longtime minister. Landry is also filling in at the pulpit during this particularly challenging time in the congregation's history. In addition to Kandota's teetering on the brink of financial ruin due to an ill-advised business venture, a faction of congregants are threatening to secede formally from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America based on the ELCA's most recent stance in support of LGBTQ people. So Landry, who is gay, is ministering to a father who will barely speak to him and guiding his parishioners through perhaps the rockiest stretch of the church's existence.
Pastor Landry is both up to the challenge and under water. He gives too much information and reveals bits of information that he concedes are inappropriate. He incorporates Jell-O recipes into his sermons and engages in light saber duels with congregants. Much has already happened by the time Landry first takes the pulpit on Christmas Eve, 2009, and a lot more will take place by the time he wraps up his sermon on Easter Sunday in 2010.
Playing the preacher, Mark Jacobson (who is no relation to the playwright) has a shock of curly brown hair, warm comforting eyes and the trace of a beard that barely separates him from a choirboy. In Jacobson's performance, Landry Sorenson's struggle to remain diplomatic and compassionate in the face of a personal crisis of faith feels spot-on and authentic.
I would urge all thoughtful theater-goers to visit one of the rotating churches around L.A where Captain of the Bible Quiz Team is being staged and see Mark Jacobson's sensitive treatment of a potent spiritual conundrum. However, depending on which performance you attend, you may have a different experience. Three other performers alternate with Jacobson in the role of Pastor Landry — two men and two women, all of different ethnic backgrounds. Given the play's belief in the powers of community and open minds, this seems entirely appropriate. Michetti, a frequent collaborator of Jacobson (the playwright), guides the proceedings with the surest of hands. This play-sermon hybrid feels entirely organic.
The playwright's decision to acknowledge us (to out us?) as he does could inspire some squirming. But give Jacobson credit for theatrical savvy. As the curtain rings down, he has us in position to deliver Captain of the Bible Quiz Team a much deserved standing ovation.
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Captain of the Bible Quiz Team
by Tom Jacobson
Directed by Michael Michetti
Cast: Amielynn Abellera, Wayne Tyrone Carr, Mark Jacobson, Deborah Puette
Costume Design: Stephanie Kerley Schwrtz
Assistant Costume Design: Megan Barker
Organist: Barbara Browning
Stage Manager: Daniel Coronel
Assistant Stage Manager/Assistant Director: Daniel Jordan Booth
Plays through October 3, 2016 at a rotating series of churches in Los Angeles. Visit captainofthebiblequizteam.com for specific locations.
Running time: One hour and 25 minutes, with no intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
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