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Straight to Hell

The Open Door Theatre Company risks eternal damnation with its "adaptation" of the Bible

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The Open Door Theatre is presently preaching a fine sermon--The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged)--that would be positively sinful to miss. Actors/Saints/Soap Salesmen Benjamin Beecher, Meredith Sause and Dante Walker, tasked with covering every book in the Bible in little over an hour, perform a marathon of costume and character changes that leaves one giddy with laughter. This gospel is written by the same prophets of comedy responsible for The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and The Complete History of America (Abridged)--Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor--which makes predestined its campy combo of below-the-belt jokes, lively musical numbers and pop-culture send-ups.

When Abraham, played by Sause a la Abe Lincoln, asks God how he can show his love to him, God says: "Give me your foreskin."

"What's a foreskin?" asks Abe.

"That useless piece of flesh at the end of your penis," replies God.

"Oh, I thought that was the man," says Sause, stepping purposefully out of character for a moment.

"He waxed wroth," Beecher later says of God, "Which gave Wroth a luxurious sheen."

Walker in a blond wig plays Mary, Mother of God, writhing in the throes of childbirth. He howls, the Christ is born and summarily tossed from between his legs into the waiting arms of Beecher, where it becomes apparent that Jesus is in fact Kenny from South Park.

"Jesus Christ!" all scream.

Just as in long-running plays like Boston's Shear Madness, The Complete Word of God leaves ample room for the inclusion of local, timely jokes, an opportunity which The Open Door Theatre is eager to exploit. Walker at one point mentions books even shorter than the Book of Ruth and lists "Jesse Helms, Colored People and Me." When Beecher's "Moses" boasts that he talked God out of 10 of the 20 commandments ("sorry, adultery is still in there"), among them are "Thou Shalt Not Find a Parking Space in Chapel Hill."

Walker shines, skillfully playing his Herculean physique off his numerous appearances in drag. Beecher has his best moment playing a wild-eyed redneck John the Baptist, who soaks the crowd with a squirt gun. Sause, guarding a play-long obsession with her doomed Lego model of Noah's Ark, later draws laughs as she crawls miserably across the ground to pick up the pieces of the shattered hulk.

As an ensemble they work well together, although their coordination at the beginning of the play is noticeably rusty when compared with their smoothly calibrated madness at the end. Perhaps this can be blamed on the hyperkinetic demands the material makes on the actors and the audience. The cast and spectators might consider running a road-race together right before showtime to ensure consistency of breathlessness. To their credit, however, the costumed cast circulated among the audience before the outdoor Weaver Street show, priming them for the interaction that would soon be demanded of them.

"You can't read during the play," Walker commanded a man who sat with an open book on the grass.

"The play hasn't started yet," responded the reader, taunting Walker by closing the book only half way.

"No, I know just what's going to happen," Walker replied sternly. "I'm going to go up there and you're going to open it again."

The high point of the performance came when audience members were divided between those who would become animals and thus be saved from the flood (this reviewer was transformed into a pig), and the sinners left behind who were ordered to make either drowning or screaming noises. With the cast leading the "animals" in an oinking, quacking biblical version of "Old McDonald Had A Farm," and with the rest of Weaver Street screaming for bloody Armageddon, Carrboro was momentarily transported into a magical, crazy Holy Land, and Carrboro saw that it was good.

But since comedy is serious business, and pigs will be pigs, a few things must be mentioned. Certain jokes and sequences fell flat with the audience, when--considering the considerable creativity of The Open Door Theatre--they didn't need to. When listing the top 10 unanswered questions for God, one was, "If the black box always survives the plane crash, why don't they make the whole plane out of the stuff they use to make the black box?" It was a line that caused some embarrassment in any spectator who knew how very many times it has already been delivered in other contexts.

In the same vein, but more serious, is a sequence ripping off Monty Python's "wink-wink-nudge-nudge-say-no-more" routine. Lovers of comedy shouldn't be exposed to such a thing, as it reminds them of what they are not watching.

Fortunately, Michael Rhyne's fast-paced directing cushions the blows of any speed bumps. Kudos should go as well to Props Master Karen Rhyne for her rendition of "The Burning Bush," which pictures George W. in flames. Heather Leigh's costumes combine both inventiveness and economy, using precious little to quickly and effectively delineate the dizzying array of characters.

And though frenetic choreography wins the day, the pace is slowed at times, once with masterful effect. This comes in the sequence where Sause's David slays Walker's Goliath with the tennis ball from an inspired overhead serve. Beecher, taking the ball in his hand, makes TV-esque "slow-motion sounds" that by themselves paralyze the hapless giant into receiving the blow in his forehead no matter how slowly the ball travels through the air to him. Judging by the sounds of their laughter at this scene, many audience members must have had to check their pants after the performance. EndBlock

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