Open: 05/27/10- Close: 06/05/10
Get Mad At Sin !|
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Lauren Wissot
Andrew Dinwiddie's "Get Mad at Sin!," directed by Jeff Larson and running at the Obie Award-winning Chocolate Factory Theater in Long Island City, Queens, takes as its starting point a delightfully ripe concept - to craft a one-man show from an out-of-print vinyl record of a sermon Jimmy Swaggart gave at an Arkansas church in 1971 (over a decade before sex scandals brought about his downfall in the late 80s). And a hell of a sermon it is! Smartly, Dinwiddie, wearing a cheap polyester suit and JC Penney-style loafers, dispenses with any irony and simply channels the fire and brimstone preacher at his Sunday best. Stalking a worn red carpet, that divides the audience seated in folding chairs on raised platforms with rec room-type wood paneling, Dinwiddie orates and shimmies with abundant sincerity, letting Swaggart's own incredible words ring out loud and clear.
What's so fascinating about this Arkansas sermon is that it was Swaggart's attempt to co-opt the rebel attitude of the Vietnam-era youth for his own spiritual agenda. In their own way Swaggart and his fellow revival tent evangelists like his friend Jerry Falwell (which sounds like Jerry "Awful" in Dinwiddie's southern pronunciation) were damn punk rock, going against the staid institutional churches and religious mainstream that didn't speak to the poor south. Swaggart wasn't a huckster but a man speaking the truth of his congregation - not unlike those Black Panthers and other 70s radicals he railed against. He was revolutionizing religion in the same way his cousin Jerry Lee Lewis was rock and roll.
Yet the paradox of "Get Mad at Sin!" is that even while its era-evoking, stripped down production values - only the recorded hymns as we take our seats and a sometimes spot lit white podium at one end of the makeshift runway divert our attention from Dinwiddie's energetic performance - allow Swaggart's essence to emerge, it isn't visually interesting. With only the subtlest of lighting changes Larson's production places too heavy a burden on Dinwiddie. After all, there's only so much expounding and writhing one actor can do to keep things moving along. As good as the show is it also feels like a strong foundation for a larger work. (Why not add a multimedia element? "Get Mad at Sin!" practically begs for the use of those reefer madness-style, 60s and 70s, anti-drug and anti-sex public service films.) And since the audience as in a church is part of the production Dinwiddie must demand a response to his call. The actor doesn't really confront us one on one, make us nervous enough to truly listen, so it often feels like he's trying to reach the mega church masses while playing a small and intimate setting.
These problems aside, there's enough substance in Swaggart's actual message for a thought-provoking show. His sermon about living in what he dubbed the "pill age," his rants against the devilish pharmaceutical industry are downright prescient. Get past the evils of the miniskirt and the hateful anti-homosexual preaching and glimmers of truth shine through. When Swaggart spoke out against sexual permissiveness - which led to STDs that in the 70s were easily cured, which in turn led to people viewing these diseases as minor inconveniences rather than as warnings to change their behavior - one can't help but think of the AIDS apocalypse to come. Buried beneath the accidental humor - Swaggart talks about counseling a couple who'd "already indulged in premarital sex - you could see it in their faces!" and employs "used merchandise" as a metaphor for promiscuity - there's a noble message about the importance of respecting oneself. All of which you can ponder as you go downstairs for the post-show cookies and lemonade (or if you're still feeling sinful and remember to fill out the survey tucked inside your program the bar down the street for a complimentary beer).
Chocolate Factory : 5-49 49th Avenue