ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
John' has a different take
on its text
By Kerry Reid
Special to the Tribune
Thursday, February 8, 2007
"I tell you the truth." Those five words run
like a mantra through the fourth gospel in the New Testament,
the one credited to the "disciple whom Jesus loved."
Atlanta-based actor Brad Sherrill has repeated that sentence--along
with all the rest of the 20,000 words in the gospel--to audiences
throughout the United States since 2001. It's a testament (no
pun intended) to his warmth and charisma as a performer that Sherrill
can still make almost every segment of this exhaustive, but occasionally
transcendent, devotional exercise cum theatrical event seem as
if he's saying the words for the first time.
But the certainty of the phrase also underscores the inherent
problem in "The Gospel of John"--its protagonist has
no doubt in his abilities and purpose on earth. And since we all
know how it's going to end, there are few surprises in the narrative.
This is a show (Sherrill appears under the auspices of Provision
Theater) that will resonate with believers more than the unchurched.
No matter how warmly ecumenical the narrator's persona, it's hard
not to feel a chill on hearing, "Whoever rejects the son
will not see life, for God's wrath will stay upon him."
Yet there are praiseworthy elements in the show aside from Sherrill's
sheer powers of memorization and his ability to touch an audience.
It's refreshing to see a piece of theater that doesn't use organized
religion as the stand-in for all the world's ills. The Jesus of
John isn't suffused with self-doubt, nor is he a prig, which makes
it more understandable that the Pharisees scoff at the notion
of the messiah as a soft-spoken slacker from Galilee.
Sherrill's Jesus isn't exactly one-dimensional either. The first
joyous miracle of the water-into-wine at Cana is followed immediately
by Jesus thrashing the moneychangers in the temple. Sherrill didn't
do any editing, so John (or whoever actually wrote the text, and
I'll leave that debate to the biblical scholars) certainly had
some notion of showing different facets of Christ's temperament.
Scott McTyer Cowart's staging also emphasizes simplicity. The
set is a wood-planked affair with only a table, chair, stool and
a few water vessels and a bucket of rocks, the latter of which
is used with great effect during the crucifixion scene (every
bit as disturbing as Mel Gibson's exercise with none of the stage
blood). The resurrection of Lazarus is a riveting bit of stagecraft.
Sherrill's performance allows Christians a chance to hear the
words without the interpretive voice of a minister coming between
them and the text.