By MARIA CHOBAN
Waiting for the End of the World, Dear Lord!
I sincerely hope you’re coming
‘Cause you really started something!
— Elvis Costello
In grade school, a passel of us would walk to Mrs. Fey’s house every Tuesday after school for her home baked oatmeal cookies… after she fed us a conservative Christian bible-thumping lesson. Portraying God’s grief, wailing like a Greek war widow in a rich Billie Holiday voice, she embarrassed my Greek pantheist soul, which detests maudlin attempts to manipulate human emotion. So how did James Y. Kim make it work?
I saw Kim’s Revelations in a staged reading at Portland’s Fertile Ground Festival before I read the script. While the whole thing shoulda been a Wham! Bam! Holy Shit! kinda ride, it did have a gut punch of a climax I did not see coming despite my years with Mrs. Fey. It doesn’t matter whether you’re familiar with Fundamentalist Christianity or if you’re against any hierarchical monotheistic, male portrayal of a Universal Ruler, I think David Loftus (playing the Supreme Being) and Kim totally shocked us and moved us to pity in a performance that felt like Kim mined himself hard to dig up this feeling of grief and — unlike Mrs. Fey — made me feel it!
The ride there felt like a slog, though. Five beings are called upon to end the world: Michael and Gabriel – Archangels, an angel representing the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, the chief Seraphim and John the Revelator are summoned to this committee meeting. No, we are not in hell.
Kim’s character descriptions include:
Michael Male. Archangel. The big swinging dick in heaven.
Seraphim Female. The most powerful angel in heaven. Charming exterior, charred interior.
A contentious committee meeting of five characters (with emphasis on characters as in the two delicious descriptions above), lobbying for their own agendas for how to End The World, should feel like the opening bell of the NY Stock Exchange: Loud, frenetic, Type-AAAA, adrenaline-anxious even if we don’t yet know what’s at stake. This is chamber music, a five-voice Shostakovich Scherzo. Frantic, ominous, perfectly timed, tumbling down. Those kinds of movements require memorization, LOTS of rehearsal to sync up entrances, knowing when to butt in, and practicing practicing practicing until it feels sturdy and repeatable.
A few nights earlier, I caught another Fertile Ground play reading that depended on very fast exchanges. Mystery of the Glass Ceiling is a fluff piece that I thought worked because of the thorough understanding of the roles and the rehearsal time put in to freight train through the silliness.
Most of the Revelations actors also had the chops to do this. But I did not get the feeling that the actors or director got the playwright’s sense of urgency. Instead, it felt like the actors didn’t have enough time, either individually or in rehearsal working the speed up from a slow rehearsal tempo, quarter note = 60, to something more Soviet and heart-thumping, quarter note = 180.
It’s a tribute to the play that even after a performance that often felt like community theater, I could see possibilities and a future. The ninth version of Kim’s 74-page script (mostly) reads like a 50-pager: tight and fast!
Still, it needs cuts, particularly at the beginning when characters are introduced. David Mamet’s “Ancient words of film and theater wisdom: If you want to make a film better, throw away the first two reels.” And in this case, the Chair (Seraphim) doesn’t even arrive to start the meeting until page 29. I felt there was too much empty chatter as each new character entered. We shouldn’t have to wait until page 22 when the free-for-all smack-down for whose plan gets God’s approval finally gets going. Get rid of the first two reels.
Personally, I’d also ditch the ape jokes / tangent; they totally bored me. You’d need a Lucy Liu-as-Ling Woo physical comedian / dominatrix with singer Meg Lee Chin’s ability to spit out “Ape” to make this work.
The powerful climax and the resolution worked thanks to a moving portrayal of God’s grief (David Loftus off script; the only character played off script all night) and John’s (Jonathan Wexler) numb acceptance of the committee’s recommendation, flatly intoned, while trying to comprehend what just happened. Exactly what just happened is a revelation I will not tell here, because this script needs a full, and fully prepared production and I don’t want to spoil it. With less early frittering and more rehearsal, Revelations could be one hell of a show.
Portland pianist Maria Choban, ArtsWatch’s Oregon ArtsBitch, blogs at CatScratch.
Want to read more about Oregon theater? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!