Will the real Jesus of Suburbia please stand up, please stand up.
I’m going to do something I’ve never done before when discussing a show, and that’s: talk first about the lighting (Japhy Weideman). And what lighting! At Magic Theatre’s world premiere of Jesus of India we get the full-on concert treatment. Despite the relatively small space at Fort Mason, strobes, spots and hanging bulbs of wondrous varieties ratchet up the lumen factor. During rag-tag Mung Bean Farmer’s rockin’ road show across India a large floor mounted batten of lights change color and intensity, bringing us from one town to the next. When you have a punk rock frontman in Jesus, I guess we should expect above average wattage. (tip: if you see this show, try to get a seat in the center section where you’ll have a great head-on view)
Amidst the chaos, weed, and thrashing there’s even a sharp-edged play in here somewhere. Lloyd Suh has given us something fresh, and utterly unique. Sometimes theater takes us in unexpected directions. Call it a trip, man. Some of the details are fuzzy, and there’s surely a few what-just-happened-there moments, but this is one heck of an interesting evening of theater.
Like American Idiot there’s no shortage of angst and rage, embodied by Jesus himself, who just wants to escape to India, and wander the desert. Forget about the charts. Let’s just see where we end up he tells is directionless followers Gopal (Bobak Bakhtiari) and Sushil (Jomar Tagatac). Part industrial experiment, part musical, and part play, we’re taken on a journey that comes full circle, but not before Jesus (Damon Daunno in an impressive multi-dimensional performance) gets his rebel on.
During these lost years, we learn of his reluctance (“I DON’T BELIEVE IN GOD!”) to throw in with destiny, which leads him to abandon Abigail (Jessica Lynn Carroll), and chase down Mary (Mahira Kakkar), a flirtatious Yoga-lover.
It’s a bit of a love-in at times. There’s noise. The theater goes dark. Then a song / or half-song / or jam session. Actors run around half-dressed, smoke weed, punk out, pour wine over their heads, make out. It might all sound insane — and at times it approaches the threshold of what I’d consider mainstream storytelling — if it weren’t for the fact that it’s so raw, entertaining. These five actors deliver cutting edge performances, devoid of any standard template I’m accustomed to seeing. And I’ll be damned if that’s not the most interesting performance of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” that I’ve ever seen.
Okay, so that half-camel (“Hey Camel: Fuck You!”), half-bike prop is somewhat campy – juxtaposed against a wild, industrial set (Michael Locher) just this side of Mad Max. In the end, though, this is 80 minutes of high adrenaline, outrageously unique theater.
Roman oppression, be damned.
Jesus, rock on!
5 out of 5 stars (Outstanding – Starkie!)
Magic Theatre, San Francisco
Directed by Daniella Topol
Starring Bobak Bakhtiari, Jessica Lynn Carroll, Damon Daunno, Mahira Kakkar, Jomar Tagatac
Written by Lloyd Suh
New work at Magic that works. Throw out your preconceptions at the door. With Jesus in India we could be getting a glimpse at the future of industrial musical theater.