Maybe it's because I'm an atheist. Or perhaps I'm tired of cheap, humorless rehashes of last year's big moneymaker. Then again, it might have been the dimwitted material and unsubtle setups. Whatever the reason, I loathed nearly every moment of The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged). Chances are, if you're a theatergoer who requires comedy more refined than wee-wee jokes or who doesn't find a set of plastic tits hilariously funny, you'll hate this show, too.
The Bible is the third Complete . . . (Abridged) comedy by Adam Long, and the latest in a franchise spawned by the success of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), which Long penned with comedy writers Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield some years back. After Actors Theatre of Phoenix made a bundle with that show a couple of seasons ago, the company staged The Complete History of America (Abridged), a sequel of sorts by Long and buddies Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor -- the same trio responsible for the wildly unfunny and tedious The Bible.
This God-awful comedy employs the same setup as its predecessors: Three actors, playing versions of themselves, reenact portions of stories we're presumably familiar with, donning silly wigs and barking out hoary jokes in the name of fun. This time, Christ and his cronies get whipped into an unfunny frenzy by an earnest cast and a director whose investment in big profits has overcome his interest in good theater. (Director Matthew Wiener is the company's producing artistic director.)
The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged)
Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe
Continues through Sunday, November 12. Call 602-253-6701, extension 108.
There's almost nothing good about this good book. Think SCTV at its very worst; toss in 40-odd grade-school jokes (sample: A guy asks God, "What are You gonna do with all those foreskins?" God says, "I'm making a wallet. When I stroke it, it'll turn into a briefcase."); and the relentless horror of audience participation (in this case, dazed ticketholders embarrass themselves as passengers on Noah's ark), and you've got The Bible.
The Ten Commandments are already a laugh riot, but Long -- determined to riff on another trite TV joke -- turns them into the Top Ten Rejected Commandments ("Thou shalt not pee in the pool"; "Shit happens") without delivering a single laugh. An interminable Tower of Babel sketch makes sense only if you remember your catechism, and a skit in which Gabriel and Jacob join the World Wrestling Federation is just plain dumb. The rest of the evening is taken up with fuck jokes and insipid sing-alongs, and punctuated with a barrage of garbage (handbills, slices of white bread, and gallons of water shot through a squirt gun) hurled into the audience. And you thought fundamentalists had no sense of humor.
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Director Wiener appears to have instructed his players (Ben Brittain, Richard Trujillo and recent Seattle transplant David Morden) to "run around and act funny." They run around a lot, in any case, and should be commended for making dozens of costume changes look effortless. The cast can only be criticized for appearing in rubbish; they make as much out of this nonsense as any player could.
Despite Paul Black's divine lighting tricks and a couple of keen set pieces by Jeff Thomson (his Last Supper painting is a riot), the production looks as cheap as it plays. Constance Furr-Soloman drapes all her would-be costume designs over ugly terry-cloth togas, and Cat Dragon's props appear to have been purchased at the dollar store.
Much has been made of the show's supposedly blasphemous script, but the only thing that gets crucified here is good humor. The show is as controversial as The Flying Nun. And just about as funny.