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Sacred Cows

by Rich See

What kind of candy do you eat at the crucifixion?

Jim Helein and Mario Baldessari
J. Helein and M. Baldessari
(Photo: Sandy Kavalier)
Scouring religion, politics, and the faithful masses, Charter Theatre takes a hilarious step into the great beyond with its production of Sacred Cows. Like an ongoing Saturday Night Live skit, the show moves at a fast pace from one vignette to the next -- each gently exposing American cultural delusions, the incongruous aspects of religious dogma, or the hypocrisies of how faith is often put into practice. It all creates a wonderfully funny and silly show!

Writer and performers Jim Helein and Mario Baldessari take on Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Born Again Christians, and TV televangelists with carefully honed and insightful pithy one-liners. From their 1400 Club's (twice the 700 Club) "Operation God Bless You - So no sneeze is left behind." to St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, the two move from one character to the next -- all of them remarkably familiar. These are people at the water cooler at work, in the movie theatre, at the bus stop, or right around the Thanksgiving table. Which makes the whole thing that much more funny, because you realize -- I know that guy!

Director Keith Bridges has made sure the timing of the production is smooth flowing and that there is a consistent, humorous disrespect throughout the show. It never detours into true mean-spiritedness, yet maintains a steady high flame under the idea of organized religion and how faith can be twisted to our own selfish ends.

Taking its cue from an Old English cottage or vicarage, Ryann Lee's set is white with wood trim consisting of moveable white boxes which serve as seats, pews, and heaven. Mr. Baldessari and Mr. Helein move the pieces around as needed and the pacing between the skits never lags.

Among the most memorable skits are:
  • The arguing friends attending Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ wondering why "The devil looks like Annie Lennox having a bad day."
  • The fighting choir brothers (a special treat)
  • "Randy at Sunday School."
  • The twin fetuses' first look at each other as they comment on how best to approach this thing we call "Life" (witty and insightful).
  • "Jerry the Uneducated Co-Worker" (someone we all are probably related to or at least know).
  • Mario Baldessari's "Mispronouncing Angle" -- oops!, angel (a riot and also very sweet in his earnest pleas to go see the Christ child).
  • Jim Helein's slow-mo death of Goliath ("to die for." -- Sorry I couldn't resist!)
  • And as polar opposite reverends -- Mr. Baldessari of "Suburban Church of Christ" planning the annual Hell House targeting gays, abortionists, and adulterers while Mr. Helein of "The Church of Unconditional Acceptance" sells his congregation of prostitutes, drug addicts and criminals to a gay dad -- the two men hit on the reality of red state/blue state contemporary America.
This is a show not to be missed! So don't wait a moo-ment longer and get tickets to Sacred Cows!

Sacred Cows
written and performed by Mario Baldessari and Jim Helein
Directed by Keith Bridges
Set Design: Ryann Lee
Lighting Design: Klyph Stanford
Running Time: 2 hours with 1 intermission
A production of Charter Theatre
The National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, Wisconsin Avenue and Volta Street NW
Telephone: 202-333-7009
THU - SAT @7:30; SAT @3; SUN @7; $20-$25
Opening 01/07/05, closing 01/30/05
Reviewed by Rich See based on 01/07/05 performance
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