Scripture as Script
"The Gospel of John"
By Dan Via
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, November 15, 2002; Page WE28
"THE Gospel of John" is just that: actor Brad Sherrill performing
a word-for-word reading of a complete book of the New Testament.
As such, it hardly counts as standard D.C. theatrical fare. Theater
Alliance Artistic Director Jeremy Skidmore says that's part of
Referring to his company's new home on the northeastern edge
of Capitol Hill, Skidmore says, "One of the major challenges we've
had creating a theater space in this community is finding a way
to incorporate as much of the community as possible. It's incredibly
diverse -- Hill staffers plus a lot of low-income families. We
wanted to find ways to bring them in so that we're a part of the
community, not just inserting ourselves into it."
Noting that there are some 30 churches on Capitol Hill, Skidmore
felt Sherrill's one-man piece -- performed to great acclaim in
his native Atlanta and now on an ad hoc national tour -- seemed
like a perfect fit.
What essentially started as personal challenge -- memorizing
more than 20,000 words from the Bible -- has evolved into an opportunity
for Sherrill to combine his faith and his craft in an unexpected
way. "I'm not trying to convert or proselytize," he says. "The
mission for me as I was called to do it was to just use my talents
to dramatize, to bring this 2,000-year-old text alive for people
to hear it today in a way that is somewhat unique. John seems
to be trying to convert people to Christianity, but I'm just offering
it out there."
The gospel of John is generally considered a thing apart from
the more "and then this happened" writings of Matthew, Mark and
Luke. John offers contextual and explanatory passages intended
to prove Jesus was, indeed, what he claimed to be: the son of
God. Sherrill uses the New International version of the text,
a modern-language translation of the Bible published in the 1970s.
The choice of translation was dictated by convenience -- "It's
the version I had in my home, the Bible my mother had given me"
-- but the conversational text serves the actor's purpose well.
"It was very important for me that it be easy on our ears,"
says Sherrill. "All my years of doing Shakespeare -- poorly, mediocrely
and very well, I guess -- were preparation for doing this. To
be able to do Shakespeare, you have to understand language --
you have to know what verbs to hit, you have to know the simple
rules to be able to make things understood and clear. For something
that's just one voice for two hours and 20 minutes, you'd better
be on your mark with the language."
For Sherrill, the text is the thing. "I don't want people to
look at this and say 'what a great actor,' " he says. "I want
them to look at it and say 'what a great story.' The words take