Daily Breeeze - On Stage: Religious Parody Easy Pill to Swallow

Daily Breeeze - On Stage: Religious Parody Easy Pill to Swallow

September 8, 2006

It's hard to classify a show that revolves around God yet takes place in a bar with a bevy of half-naked women.

But then, a closer look would prove "Taking the Jesus Pill," on stage at the King King theater and nightclub in Hollywood through Oct. 11, isn't really about God at all; rather, it's more about sex, incest, love, the devil and the warped juxtaposition of a few notable Bible verses.

The show (written and created by musician Charlie Terrell) feels a little like "Romeo and Juliet" -- if "Romeo and Juliet" were a three-ring-circus set in a nightclub and done for the MTV generation.

In other words, it's disjointed, jumpy and loud, but brims with enough sexiness, attitude and taboo to give it a trendy sort of feel that'll keep the young and hip sufficiently entertained.

The story revolves around Johnny 3:16 (so named for Bible verse John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son") and Tina, the rebellious daughter of a Southern preacher.

Johnny (played by Brandon Karrer) and Tina (Nikki Mccaulery) meet on the side of the road, fall in love, and run away together -- which would be all well-and-good if it weren't for Tina's questionably affectionate father, Lester Shoats (played enthusiastically by Michael Childers of "Six Feet Under").

Shoats is a preacher who believes in a religion where people embrace sin rather than refrain from it.

The preacher sets out to find -- and kill -- Johnny 3:16 while retrieving his daughter.

Violence, murder and mayhem ensue.

The show bills itself as a "Southern Gothic rock opera," and its music lingers somewhere between rock 'n' roll and gospel. On its own, the music is catchy, edgy, and fun -- even if it is, at times, disconnected from the story.

For Terrell, a musician who said on his Web site (www.hopefulsinner.com) that he "has been a freak" ever since he was bitten by a bat as a kid (he calls this his first taste of fame, as the papers exclaimed "Boy Bitten by Vampire Bat!"), "Taking the Jesus Pill" wasn't always meant to be a stage show.

Originally, Terrell wrote it as a short story. He then turned it into an album in 1997. In 1998, he held an early staging of the short story at the Berkshire Theater Festival in Stockbridge, Mass.

But it wasn't until 2004, when executive producer Polly Parsons (daughter of rocker Gram Parsons) signed on, that the show evolved into what it is now, a unique if not bizarre spectacle that manages to sell out almost every performance.

As can be expected of a show that paints Jesus as a drug, sacrilege and blasphemy are par for the course. At one point, between the "Amens!" and "Hallelujahs!" the preacher suggests that Jesus did a lot more than resist temptation.

There's more where that came from. There's the trio of writhing, scantily clad dancers (Mariah Perkins, Dani Levine, and Lisanna McDermott), the stranglings, the shootings, the sex, the scandals -- needless to say it's no Sunday School lesson.

The King King theater, where "Taking the Jesus Pill" has made its home intermittently since 2004, is a fitting venue for such a show. Its cavernously high ceilings, dimly lit ambiance and cluttering of cocktail tables give the audience the feeling of being inside the story itself, as there are several scenes set in a nightclub.

The performance takes place from all directions, with actors climbing staircases, standing on bar counters, weaving through the audience and screaming from the DJ booth.

It's been compared to "The Rocky Horror Show," and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," though it remains to be seen whether "Jesus" will garner the same cult-like popularity. In any case, word behind-the-scenes is "Taking the Jesus Pill" may, too, be a movie some day.

As for the plot, it's clear "Taking the Jesus Pill" is supposed to be a tragic love story. However, its short sexy scenes make it feel more like a very long movie preview for such a story.

Bottom line: You may not understand what you're watching, but you'll feel like you stumbled upon something special, just the same.

Email List

Enter your email to sign up for our email list