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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
A Pebble In My Shoe: The Life and Times of John Shelby Spong
Writer/director Colin Cox does a brilliant job of making the life of former Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong into exciting theatre. Of course, it was all along.
Stephen Wolfert plays the bishop from his bewildered childhood in segregated North Carolina to a ministry that blossoms in the civil rights decades of the 1950s and 1960s to a second act in which he fights for the civil rights of homosexuals to be ordained as priests in the church and to have their unions honored.
Wolfert gets the iconoclastic glee of the Bishop, which television viewers may have seen on Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect. The actor also finds the man's tortured struggle to remain true to his faith while not forsaking his principles.
Presented by Cox's Will and Company at Edgefest, the director intersperses the Bishop's life story with Biblical quotes and scenes with key characters in Spong's life, played by just two remarkable actors, Mike Peebler and Dawn Stern. Stern plays Spong's first wife Joan whose long tragic struggle with acute paranoia ended in her death from cancer and his second wife Christine whose warmth and acuity resulted in a remarkable partnership. "Not every author is in love with his editor" says Spong in the preface to his latest book The Sins of Scripture.
The ugliness of bigotry is glaringly portrayed by Peebler and Stern who roar out the headlines and slogans hurled at Spong. They also play the clergy in Spong's life and some of the most powerful moments come when Stern projects an African-American gospel preacher's intonation.
Cox infuses the play with vitality, suspense and impeccable timing and stagecraft. Vania Ouzonova has created full costumes that do more than hint at the many characters played by Stern and Peebler, despite the incredibly quick changes required by the show's pace. When bigots quote Scripture against homosexuality, Spong retorts with quotes from Scripture that ordain death for adultery, among similar deeds.
The play ends with barely a hint of Spong's current activities which center on his devotion to an evolving empowering Christianity free of mythology and fundamentalism. A man ahead of his time, Spong has lived to see the times catching up with him.
A PEBBLE IN MY SHOE: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOHN SHELBY SPONG
Playwright/Director: Colin Cox
Cast: Stephan Wolfert (Jack Spong), Dawn Stern, Mike Peebler (Multiple Roles)
Set Design: Mione Bonere
Lighting Design: David Toledo
Costume Design: Vania Ouzonova
Sound Design: Adrian Chatman
Running Time: Two hours with one intermission
Running Dates: October 15, 16, 22, 23.
Where: Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles. Ph: (866) 811-4111
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on October 9. br>
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