To call A.R. Gurney’s satirical take on the story of Jesus Christ a one-joke comedy is much too generous. (The fact that it was inspired by George W. Bush’s infamous post–September 11 “go shopping” speech gives a good indication of how stale the humor is.) When their offstage activist son, Chris, is arrested, headstrong lefty Mary (Annette O’Toole) and her moderate carpenter hubby, Joseph (Steve Mellor), ask their old pal Pontius Pilate (Reg E. Cathy), now a bigwig with Homeland Security, to help spring him from the clink. Soon, Pedro (Danny Rivera), Magdalena (Ariel Woodiwiss) and Pilate’s wife, Phyllis (Kathy Najimy, who seems to be playing a candidate for Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise), show up. (Karen Ziemba replaces the departing Najimy on Fri 19.) What follows is a laugh-free indictment of consumerism, religious zealotry, censorship and the bastardization of the American Dream.
It’s easy to sanction Heresy’s politics (mostly preached to the choir), but its punch lines are painful. The biblical parallels hit the audience over the head like stones, and the tone set by director Jim Simpson is deadly—so despite the actors’ hard (if stylistically disparate) work, they don’t have a prayer. Many horrendous things have already been done in the name of Jesus; just add this excruciating allegory to the list.—Raven Snook