THEATER PREVIEW: Monday,
March 22, 2010
"The Gospel of John"and "Prophets"
"Gospel," 10 a.m. Tuesday, 7:30p.m. Wednesday and Friday,
"Prophets," 7:30p.m. Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
Through Sunday. $10-$35. Georgia Shakespeare,
Oglethorpe University, 4484 Peachtree Rd., Atlanta. 404-264-0020,
Actor says scriptures strike chords today.
He's done "Gospel of John" everywhere, now adds "Prophets."
By Wendell Brock
For the AJC
All kinds of random things go through our heads when we are waiting
in line at the grocery store or filling up our gas tanks. Brad
Sherrill often finds himself running lines from the Bible.
For the past 10 years, the 48-year-old Atlanta actor has performed
his one-man show “The Gospel of John,” putting on
more than 600 shows for audiences in 40 states, Canada, the United
Kingdom and Ireland — playing to tiny churches in towns
with one traffic light, as well as the majestic cathedrals of
kings and queens.
A 22-year member of the Georgia Shakespeare theater company,
Sherrill is a mixture of intellectual rigor and priestly calm.
After a performance of “Gospel,” he often finds that
people want to confide in him or share their problems. Sometimes,
they are so moved that they burst into tears at his touch.
This week at Georgia Shakespeare, Sherrill unveils his latest
one-man show, “Prophets,” drawn from Old Testament
texts he believes have an eerie resonance in today’s world.
While “Gospel” is a 2½-hour show containing
all of the nearly 20,000 words from the New Testament book, “Prophets”
condenses the words of Isaiah, Jeremiah and other messengers into
an intermissionless 90-minute performance that includes multimedia
design and is structured around a courtroom conceit. (“Gospel”
and “Prophets” run in repertory Tuesday-Sunday at
the Oglethorpe University-based theater.)
Sherrill, an avid reader and researcher who now devotes eight
months of the year to his faith-based theater work, finds that
the Old Testament sages were concerned with social injustice and
poverty, with the persistence of greed in a universe blighted
by hunger and disease.
“I feel that they are vital to us now because the human
condition does not change,” he said of the Scriptures, which
he is gleaning not for their “gloom and doom” qualities
but what they tell us about cycles of history. “We are all
hungry for security, for food and a meaning for our life. ‘How
do I live in this world?’ These texts for me are not dusty,
flattened, closed off in some book. But just like the greatest
stuff in Shakespeare, there is something there that has kept them
alive and relevant.”
Sherrill — who looks and sounds a little like Bill Paxton
of HBO’s “Big Love” — grew up in the Chamblee
United Methodist Church, which he still attends. His first performance
was in a production of “Camelot” at that church, and
he traces his intertwined passions for the Bible and theater back
to that formative time. “I still consider myself an actor,
but I consider myself a kind of circuit pastor and amateur theologian.”
Years ago, he took up the “Gospel of John” as a daily
devotional tool without ever thinking it might some day be a performance
piece. “I walked out on my front porch and started to learn
the prologue, to memorize it,” he said during an interview
in a Georgia Shakespeare conference room. “The more I got
into it, the more it started to resonate with me.”
Today, after hundreds of performances, “ ‘Gospel’
remains fresh,” he said, “because these words I feel
are living and active and moving and refuse to be decided upon
or forced into some certain little box.”
Unlike the Gospel of John, however, the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah
are too long to memorize. “They are too huge,” he
said. “You can’t learn the whole books, and I tell
you, nobody would want to sit there for them.”
During the new piece, which features multimedia and sound design
by his manager, Mark Hickman, the prophets are called in like
witnesses in a courtroom as images of suffering and devastation
whir by on a video screen. “I feel God is scandalized by
injustice and has an overriding concern for the oppressed, the
marginal and the poor,” he said.
As ominous as the words of prophets can be, the actor wants to
stress a sense of hope and salvation. “We can’t, sitting
here in 2010, imagine a world where there is not injustice, war
or violence, a world where a billion people don’t live in
extreme poverty. But the prophets can. They have this beautiful
poetic imagery that seems to be expressing God’s hope.”