November 15, 2002
By John the Evangelist
Directed by Scott Cowart
At the H Street Playhouse to Nov.27
Saint John's was not just another gospel. Matthew's, Mark's, and
Luke's read like journalistic reports of events in the life of
Jesus. But John wrote literature -- evocative, nuanced stories
of Jesus' life and relationships with his disciples.
In the Theater Alliance's The Gospel of John, actor Brad Sherrill
capitalizes on the book's dramatic potential and creates a riveting
one-man show. He recites the entire text verbatim, portraying
Jesus, the people he met, and the evangelist's narrative voice,
replete with love, wisdom, and sorrow.
The stories will be familiar to most people who went to Sunday
school: the transformation of water into wine at Cana; the resurrection
of Lazarus; the feeding of the multitudes; Jesus's passion and
resurrection. Sherrill addresses the audience members as whomever
Jesus or John is addressing in the scripture. Early on, for example,
we are the moneychangers, and Sherrill scolds us for treating
the temple like a market. Later, we are witnesses to a miracle,
and Sherrill explains how we may ask for miracles of our own.
Then we are Simon Peter, and Sherrill assures us, with tears in
his eyes, that we'll deny him three times before morning. When
Sherrill speaks to us as John, we are the first-generation Christians,
receiving reassurance that we have followed the right path.
Under Scott Cowart's direction, and with the help of Darryl Moran's
evocative lighting effects and a few simple props, Sherrill re-creates
the gospel's scenes around the spare black space of the H Street
Playhouse. An upturned stool with a wooden bowl nestled in its
legs becomes the well at Samaria. Water from the same bowl splashes
onto the floor as the disciples cross the stormy sea, and Jesus
later dips his hand into it to create the mud that cures a blind
man. A worn trestle table with a stone placed on it stands as
Lazarus's tomb; later, Pilate sits atop it in judgment.
Jesus could be a frustrating fellow to understand; in John, he
describes himself as word, light, bread, water, a sheep gate,
and a vine. Sherrill' calling -- the same as John's -- is to make
clear that he was identifying himself as the son of God and to
instill in his disciples both his love and his command that they
love one another. His passionate performance and the simple beauty
of the production should satisfy Christians wanting to hear the
word, as well as anyone who loves storytelling.