I love Mustardseed Theatre (and not just because I had the fortune of playing Loner in their inaugural production of Remnant 6 years ago). Every time I go there to see a play there, I know I am going to be delighted as a theatre-goer – whether I’m going to walk out challenged by their extremely subtle faith-based aesthetic, or whether I leave chuckling at some slightly goofy, but unerringly truthful look at what it means to be a human being on this earth. I was happily able to enjoy both in their current production, Imaginary Jesus, directed by the inimitable Deanna Jent.
Adapted by Ms. Jent from the novel by Matt Mikalatos (which has been described as a cross between Monty Python, C. S. Lewis and It’s a Wonderful Life, with a little Star Wars thrown in to satisfy the geeks), Imaginary Jesus takes us on an Easy Rider-style adventure about one man’s search for his spirituality. In the opening of the play, two identical-looking men arrive at a Portland coffee house (of course). After a brief tussle over who’s to play the lead in this story, it is finally decided that one of them will play the thinly-disguised comic book-nerd-turned-Christian-author Matt (Robert Thibaut), and the other “Matt” will be the Narrator of the show (Chad Morris). Then, the fireworks begin. Matt is soon assaulted by the coffee shop’s homeless nutjob, Pete (J. Samuel Davis), who just happens to be able to see Matt’s ever-present, comforting version of Jesus, complete with white gown and flowing brown hair and beard. After scarcely a few words, Pete suddenly punches Jesus in the face, which sends Jesus hitching up his gown and running off like a little girl. It turns out that Pete is the apostle Peter, who has seen through the ruse, and informs Matt, that his version of Jesus is not the real Jesus – and that if he wants to be at real peace, then he needs to make a pilgrimage to find Him. Pete introduces Matt to two beings that are able to help with this quest – Daisy, a wise-cracking donkey (Michelle Hand), and ex-call girl Sandy (Nicole Angeli), who explains that there are thousands of “Imaginary Jesuses” – Jesi?- Jesuses – that are dreamed up by whatever people need at the moment, and then, discarded as soon as their needs have or haven’t been met. On the journey we meet dozens of Jesi – among them, the pompous King James Jesus, Children’s Jesus, Hippie Jesus and Cirque du Soleil Jesus – none of them offering satisfaction. When we meet Matt’s sweet, caring wife, Krista (Julie Venegoni), we learn why the quest for good and God is so important to Matt. After a showdown, in a Prayer Labyrinth with the remaining members of The Secret Society of Imaginary Jesi, Matt finally finds the peace, and the Jesus that he needs.
Direction by Jent is fast, furious and funny (dropping in his trademark bit of poignancy when needed), while Dunsi Dai, Michael Sullivan, JC Kracijek and Michael Perkins bolster the production with their usual stellar work in set, light, costume and sound design.
The star-studded cast is filled with some of the best, and the funniest that STL has to offer. Thibault and Morris are quick and absurdly funny as the Matts, Davis is wise and cocky as Peter, Brown is quite smarmy as the primary imaginary Jesus, Hand is a hoot as Daisy, Angeli is an assured and comic Sandy, and Venegoni is sweet as long-suffering Krista. But this septet is bolstered by 10 equally funny folks playing multiple Imaginary Jesi – Kyle Powell, Zoe Sullivan, Vanessa Waggoner, Leslie Wobbe, Jaime Zayas, and notably Roger Erb as Political Power Jesus, Daniel Lanier as 8-Ball Jesus and Harley, Aaron Orion Baker as Televangelist Jesus, Ben Ritchie – who is THE go-to-guy when you need someone to be Jesus-like, and Amy Loui in a superbly poignant take on Jesus’ mother, Mary.
All of this hilarity leads to a satisfying, and thought-provoking evening of theater, leaving you to question what YOU might want from your Jesus - real or imaginary, and where you might find Him.