Nobody has done a better job transcribing the physical relationship between Christians and their god than William Shakespeare in Measure For Measure. The Duke (Jehovah's stand-in), noting that his land has gone into horrible moral decline, lays down a series of laws concerning sins of the flesh. The Duke announces his imminent departure and entrusts these laws to Angelo, his trusted friend (standing in for the clergy), demanding that they be enforced to the letter in his absence. The Duke then hides himself away in a location where he can monitor Angelo's activity, waiting for just the right moment to return and pass judgment. Angelo, corrupted by his position, exploits the laws to his own advantage and sets himself above them. When the Duke returns, Angelo is punished, while the just are treated to rewards that equal their service to the Duke.
Since Measure For Measure, almost every great dramatic critique of organized Christianity has used this model to some degree, attempting to show how easily fundamentalism can become a tool for oppression and a scheme for amassing wealth and power.
While carnality is never an issue, God's Man In Texas, David Rambo's politicized drama about the transfer of power in Texas' largest Southern Baptist church, hits on many of the same themes. It explores the contradictions of fundamentalism and asks whether the church serves the flock or the needy egos of those who run it.
Dr. Jeremiah Mears (Michael Gravois) is a real comer in the world of Christian broadcasting. He has built his church in San Antonio into an institution 6,000- strong. As a result, he has been tapped to co-head a congregation exponentially larger: a self-contained city of God with its own bowling alley, swimming pools, sports arena, dinner theater, and a vast television audience calling in their contributions by credit card. He is invited by the church's 81-year-old pastor (guest artist Bobb James) to become a celebrity for Christ and the fundamentalist, decidedly Republican way of life. GMIT explores the landscape where organized religion mimics the glamorous and notoriously power-hungry and paranoid culture of Hollywood. It is also a classic story of the old guard's struggle to remain relevant and in control in the face of a younger generation's zeal and idealism. The play is constructed as solidly as a cathedral, but for all of its promise and detail, the script never scratches too far beneath some pretty obvious surfaces. Circuit's production, while competent, lacks the focus and energy that could make it engaging, in spite of the script's relatively safe parameters.
There's nothing worse than living in the South and hearing bad Southern (or, in this case, Southwestern) accents onstage. That's one of the problems facing Circuit Playhouse's production of GMIT. You just want the actors to speak the lines and trust that we're clever enough to know where the play takes place.
Director Anastasia Herin, typically very thorough in her endeavors but lately a bit less effective, has let Dave Landis' character (a veteran of rehab using Christ as his shield against both temptation and reality) turn into a country cutup. Landis' character readily admits to his own simplemindedness and provides much of the play's comic relief, but that's no reason to go completely Hee Haw with it.
And then there is the problem with charisma. Both Gravois and James are accomplished actors, but it is impossible to imagine that either has the ability to reach across the airwaves and capture the universal fancy of devout Baptists accustomed to the fire and fury of so many well-known televangelists. Both lack the hypnotic power of Christian icons like Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Robert Schuller, or even the much-maligned Jimmy Swaggart. It's a case where casting talented actors just isn't good enough. The choppy narrative and charmless sermons do very little to help the actors rise above their predicament.
God would make a pretty tough theater critic, I imagine. Of course, there is all that business about how forgiving the Almighty is and how His eternal love knows no bounds, but that's just the tip of the holy iceberg. After all, He/She/It likes things to be HOT! Have you ever taken a swallow of soda only to discover someone dropped their cigarette into the can? Remember how you responded? According to the Bible, that's how God responds to things that are merely lukewarm. He spews them from his mouth like a tobacco-tainted soft drink. After having watched God's Man In Texas, I kinda-sorta understand His policy. The play has so much going for it and so much working against it. It's often good, but it's never great. In fact, it is the very definition of lukewarm. The script presses many of the right buttons, but the show's mechanisms refuse to respond accordingly. It teases with insight but settles for comfortable resolution. It wants to be a vastly tragic morality tale with a tenuously happy ending but is never much more than a cautionary Sunday-school lesson with a tenuously happy ending. That said, there are, no doubt, plenty of people for which this neatly assembled commentary on the state of grace in America may be sufficient. There are certainly some who stand to learn a thing or two about the gulf between what is practiced and what is preached.
Through August 25th.