Theater of One
Gregory M. Lamb
20,000 words, zero help
Actor Brad Sherrill has appeared in
dozens of professional theatrical productions in the Atlanta area,
including more than 30 with the Georgia Shakespeare Festival.
But he had another dream: to bring the Book of John, his favorite
account of the life of Jesus, to the stage. "I wanted people to
hear the unadulterated word ... in one sitting," he says. "No
adaptation. No cutting. Just word for word through the whole thing."
Mr. Sherrill took 4-1/2 months off from acting, sat on his front
porch, and memorized the Gospel. All 20,000 words. For the past
two years, he's been performing in churches and theaters across
the South. His one-man show, "The Gospel of John," is at Lamb's
Theatre in New York through April 20.
It's not without precedent. British actor Alec McCowen performed
"St. Mark's Gospel" in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including
a limited run on Broadway. But Sherrill felt John had something
special to say.
"The thing that I really love about John is what Jesus tells his
disciples before his arrest, which is all about loving one another
and 'do not let your heart be troubled....' It's the greatest
outpouring of love that can be found in the Gospels...."
"Love one another," he points out, is Jesus' final command to
his followers, "something we've been hearing for 2,000 years and
still find hard to do."
Sherrill keeps it simple when he performs. "There's no fake beard,
there's no costume. To me, those kind of things can separate us
in a sense - 'Oh, this happened 2,000 years ago!' I think it's
a living text, and it applies to our lives today." Because he
sees light and water as the major metaphors in John, "I use an
oil lamp and a pitcher of water" as props.
At times, members of the audience become the other characters.
"I pick out disciples" and speak to them. "It's an intimate connection."
Sherrill travels with close friend Scott Cowart, his stage manager,
PR man, and codirector. But he admits he does "miss the friendships
you have when you're working in a huge Shakespeare company." And
he's taken time off to go to Africa for a month and to return
to Shakespeare. "When I take a break, the material even sinks
down deeper for me, and I'm able to reflect on it."
"You could mine this material all your life, as scholars have,
and never get all of it, all of the richness."