It doesn't take long for Actors Theatre of Phoenix to offend women, the religious, conspiracy theorists and believers in extraterrestrials during its current production of Some Things You Need to Know Before the World Ends (A Final Evening With the Illuminati).
Coming across like a bad version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame staged in a college frat house, this wonderful send-up is full of outrageous observations and thought-provoking questions. For example: Does God play basketball? What would be your preferred method of martyrdom? Is organized religion a male tool used to oppress women?
The questioning occurs in an old church, where the Reverend Eddie is pastor. Eddie has a helper, Brother Lawrence, who looks suspiciously like Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame. Feeding off each other's questions and answers, these two seek the truth of life while trying to avoid detection by the Bavarian Illuminati, an 18th-century "secret society whose membership was open only to people on the highest level of consciousness possible" and which, Eddie believes, was behind the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Eddie is driven by his belief that the only reality is the church, and that his doom at the hands of the Illuminati is imminent.
Much of the play consists of the presentation of Eddie's visions--visions that he believes are being sent by the Illuminati. The visions include visits from the Grim Reaper (Eddie's opponent in a one-on-one basketball game), a man from Bimidji interviewing to become a saint, and a country band convinced that God is a Lutheran "in every word and deed."
Lawrence also has visions, which Eddie dismisses as mere dreams; most of them revolve around vintage cars, space aliens and evening gowns. During the balance of the performance, Eddie delivers sermons, practices self-mutilation, fires a revolver at his congregation and sets up a basketball court in the sanctuary.
You may have ascertained that this is not conventional theatre. It is, in fact, comedy of the lowest kind, and it works wonderfully. Authors Larry Larson and Levi Lee have created two outrageous characters who live in a nightmarish world where life-changing events can and do happen at any time.
By keeping the show fast-paced and allowing his actors to cut loose, director Matthew Wiener has orchestrated a pleasing production made vital by two of the most talented actors in the Valley.
Gerald Burgess, as Reverend Eddie, is obsessive, taunting, cruel and terrified, frantically delivering hislines with the utmost urgency. His energy and vocal power fill the theatre; it is a nonstop, aerobic performance.
As Brother Lawrence, Bob Sorenson steals the show with a look, a gesture, even a hop. In one scene, when asked to sing a choral number by himself, Sorenson breaks into a medley of show tunes that brings down the house. Sorenson is at his best describing Lawrence's visions, creating pictures the audience can see along with him. Moving smoothly from deformed helper to construction worker to country-music singer, this gifted performer is a delight to watch.
If you're willing to take a chance on being offended by the light treatment of weighty issues, this production of Illuminati provides off-the-wall, creative, hilarious theatre.--Gerald Thomson
Actors Theatre of Phoenix's production of Some Things You Need to Know Before the World Ends (A Final Evening With the Illuminati) continues through Sunday, February 18, in Stage West at Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe.
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