ON THE TOWN
speak The Gospel of John,
first you have to memorize it
By Tony Adler
Special to the Tribune
February 2, 2007
As any decent calling should, Bradley Sherrill's found
"I was going from play to play to play," says the fast-talking
Atlanta-based actor, "and I found myself where I was saying
'yes' to plays that I really didn't care about because--you know--the
actor wants to work. And I think I was just kind of led to a place--really,
it was kind of a personal calling--to memorize The Gospel of John.
"It was a way of going deeper into my own faith journey
and it was a way for God to say, 'Hey Brad, I'm going to ask you
to take this inside of you, to memorize the entire Gospel as a
way of coming closer to your own relationship to God.' So that's
what I did."
And did and did and did, six hours a day for four and a half
months, he says--just to get the fourth book of the New Testament
to "where I could know it in a superficial way."
Sherrill would invite friends over to hear sections as he learned
"And then I did it at my church and I thought that would
be the end of it," he recalls. "And that was almost
400 performances ago."
Now Sherrill spends eight months out of each year taking his
2 hour, 20-minute solo show to churches and theaters all over
America--including the Royal George Theatre, where he's currently
making his Chicago debut.
The bare-bones simplicity of the piece--a lone man in contemporary
street clothes, a table, lamp and pitcher--makes Sherrill mobile
and reasonably priced.
"One of the great gifts is that I can go to very rural communities,
I can go to Chicago, I can go to off-Broadway, I can go to Alaska
and I can go into towns of all shapes and sizes with all kinds
of people," he says, "and that's really cool to me."
Sherrill chose The Gospel of St. John--or felt called to it--because
it's "more mystic, more poetic" than the other three,
somewhat older New Testament accounts of Jesus' life: the Gospels
of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
"The others are more like reportage and narrative--and of
course 'John' has narrative in it, but it also has thematic development
that you don't find in the others," he notes. "It's
beautifully written--the metaphors of light and water that go
through it--and I think it's a little higher theology than the
other three, although I almost hate saying that because I think
it's a very simple story too."
Does he regard the show as a ministry?
"I do," replies Sherrill, who is a Methodist. "I'd
be lying to you if I said I didn't. At his point now--this is
the beginning of the seventh year of it--it has become that.
"But I'm not trying to proselytize, I'm not really trying
to evangelize. It's a ministry in the sense that it ministers
to me. I've finally found the text through which I can really
connect with other people."
Indeed he doesn't offer much in the way of missionary zeal.
He regards the show as a blow for tolerance, suggesting that
"the more we know each other's stories the more we can see
commonality in them." That's an especially bold stance given
that some believers cite a passage from John (specifically, Jesus'
declaration, "I am the way and the truth and the life; no
one comes to the Father except through me") as proof that
only Christians can go to heaven.
Still, Sherrill distills The Gospel of John--all 20,000 words
of it--down to a three-word dictum: "Love one another."