Tent Meeting. Photo by Bob Knuth
By: Rebecca Wackler,
Larry Larson and Levi Lee
At: Circle Theatre, 7300 W. Madison,
Phone: 708-771-0700; $21-$23
Runs through: June 3
BY SCOTT C. MORGAN
Hey everybody! Lets make fun of eccentric redneck Christian fundamentalists!
That's the tone that is raised throughout Tent Meeting, a 1980s muddle of a comedy co-written by Rebecca Wackler, Larry Larson and Levi Lee. Just exactly why theses authors trot out all these easy comic stereotypes is a thought-prodding mystery.
The plot is basically this: A domineering Bible-thumping preacher named Ed Tarbox kidnaps his illegitimate and deformed grandchild because he thinks it's the new Messiah. He then forces his injured World War II veteran son and simple daughter, the mother of the baby, to travel with him for a revelation-directed journey to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in Canada.
The dramatic question is whether or not the baby is a product of incest, or a truly divine conception ( at which daughter Becky Ann sings Raped by God to open the second act ) . Then there are also son Darrell's threats to kill the child so they can all return home to Arkansas.
While it's clear the author are clearly poking fun at fundamentalist Christians, Tent Meeting doesn't lucidly explain just why. Is there really an Abraham-like religious reconciliation between father Ed and his back-talking son? Or are the authors poking holes in the patriarchy by showing a wily woman outfoxing deeply convicted, but ultimately false, preachers with the blasphemous notion of a female Messiah?
At the very least, Tent Meeting pushes audiences to examine how fundamentalists use Biblical texts for their own selfish purposes to control others or as a script to manufacture their own divine revelations. There are injections of bickering humor in Tent Meeting, but it doesn't count for much in the end.
Circle Theatre's production of this not-so-satisfying play is just OK. I wish director Chris Arnold had found a more powerful actor than Joseph E. Hudson to unleash the disturbing fire-and-brimstone conviction to father Ed. Katherine Banks, as the gawky Becky Ann, also didn't fully satisfy either, though her not entirely believable character could just be seen as foreshadowing her future duplicity.
Only Ross Travis convinces fully as son Darrell, who arrogantly tries to use his 'war disability' for sympathy or to explain away all his failures in life. Travis' comic humiliations as Darrell are great, showing the cast to be more comfortable with comedy than the serious stuff.
At a time when we get enough hot-air preaching from the Religious Right and the pandering Republican party, Tent Meeting isn't exactly the right thing to hit the spot in terms of escapist entertainment. Alas, neither is it serious enough to be as thought-provoking as it could be.