Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., Dec. 8, 2000
through December 23
Running Time: 2 hrs, 15 min
Eric Coble's Virtual Devotion is the inaugural offering from Scott Kanoff, the State Theater Company's new producing artistic director. The play's a comedy, ostensibly, about the second coming of Jesus called Christ into a future that's only weeks ahead of our present. We follow the intersecting events in the lives of three main characters: the Reverend Pete, the nation's most popular televangelist; his daughter Ann, a telemarketer who raises funds for yet another ministry; and Ann's mother Ruth, whose sighting of the face of Ezekiel in a container of tapioca has the news media lifting her toward celebrity.
Kelly McDaniel is Pete, Lara Toner is Ann, and Janelle Buchanan is Ruth, and they do a fine job with what they've been given -- Toner and McDaniel, especially, if only because their characters are required to chew some scenery, and they accomplish this with much gusto and not a little glee. The supporting actors -- Barry Miller as Jesus, and Corey Gagne and Lana Lesley in multiple roles -- also provide what their substantial talents can bring to the story.
And the set by Christopher McCollum, oh Lord, the set is three separate staging areas -- Ruth's living room, Ann's bedroom, Pete's TV broadcast set -- all raised up by metal frameworks that leave the hardware purposefully exposed, adding effectively to the industrio-futural ambience, and that ambience amplified by a towering backdrop of three columns of metal-and-wood scaffolding, up and down which move various minor characters. And all of that is lighted with such precision and forethought by the Gunn Brothers that you might wonder what DreamWorks project they turned down to work on this instead. The Gunns handle the aural landscape, too, and it's multileveled and appropriate and invigorates what it can of this two-hours-plus show. And just by itself, the liquid silver business suit that costumer Buffy Manners has created for Reverend Pete might mesmerize runway addicts at Milan for hours.
But. "What it can," "with what they've been given," "ostensibly" -- all those conditional phrases have been included because this good work has been brought to bear on a lackluster script.
There's nothing remarkably new here -- nothing that sci-fi scribes haven't used and discarded years ago, nothing that, for instance, The Onion hasn't already skewered in infinitely more effective ways -- and there's nothing unique offered by way of compensation even in the story's language. What's worse is that it's supposed to be funny -- at least it seemed like the story was trying really, really, really hard to be funny -- and it wasn't, much. And "much," I'm sorry, does strain the quality of mercy. Even whatever extra effort was required to make the climactic Home Shopping Network scene less clunky and diffused, even that would have been in service of a text that looks poor in comparison to the least that, say, MAD TV has to offer.
All of this makes the experience more of a mystery play: Why has director Kanoff chosen this story to launch his State tenure with? Or maybe it's simply the critic's taste that's the culprit here? However you want to see it, in mid-show, and later, and again -- an incorrigible felon! -- I was guilty of checking my watch and mentally composing the next day's grocery list. "This," I thought, "this is the cutting edge interface of religion and high tech, this is the Timely or At Least Clever Illumination of Important Topics?" Jesus wept.