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Reviews of what's playing now in the Triangle

The Fall to Earth, God's Man in Texas

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**** The Fall to Earth, Manbites Dog Theater--Playwright Joel Drake Johnson pushes the limits early: After 10 taxing minutes of matriarch Fay's non-stop blather, her chilly adult daughter Rachel--and the audience--are both eyeing the door. But just beyond that first inkling of what Rachel's childhood must have been like, we learn that the pair has reunited, under duress, to retrieve the body of a family member in a distant city. As Fay and Rachel learn of the violence surrounding his death, both inexorably trace the root of that trauma back to the past. It's a fuse that grows shorter and shorter as things develop.

Johnson craftily rations out the script's few but sufficient surprises, as accomplished actors Marcia Edmundson (Fay) and Dana Marks (Rachel) probe deeply into a mother and daughter's estranged relationship--one where several issues involving borders have been left unresolved. Cheryl Chamblee gives admirable support. (Through April 2.)


***1/2 God's Man in Texas, Playmakers Rep--Yes, Baptist megachurches whose spiritual--and economic, and political--agendas extend well beyond their hermetical campuses are certainly worth extended scrutiny. But one gets the nagging feeling that playwright David Rambo should have learned a lot more after two years studying Texas-style fundamentalism than we see in this somewhat over-focused drama.

True, he examines the cult of personality on which they're based (with Philip Davidson's Dr. Gottschall as a firebrand in the pulpit, and an off-stage preacher's wife who apparently pulls a lot of the strings), while visiting preacher Jerry Mears (Kenneth Strong) almost completely deconstructs the salesmanship of high-volume salvation. And Sean Hannigan's heartfelt performance as Hugo, a good ol' boy of an audio technician, ultimately reveals a desperate believer--one with no fallback position in his faith.

But reducing such a vast and potentially troubling social phenomenon to a three-character ecclesiastical seduction of the innocent arguably leaves most of the believers--and the center of the real story--off stage. If Rambo rescues a couple of characters from the pride, envy, anger and greed of Big Religion, we're left to wonder--who's going to save the rest of the world? (Through March 26.)

E-mail Byron at bwoods@indyweek.com.

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