3Christs. Judson Memorial Church (see Off-Off Broadway). By SM Dale and Barry Rowell. Based on a work by Milton Rokeach. Directed by Kelly O'Donnell. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.
3Christs: In brief
A psychologist in the late 1950s plays God with three schizophrenic patients who each believe themselves to be Jesus Christ in SM Dale and Barry Rowell's adaptation of a book by Milton Rokeach. Kelly O'Donnell stages the piece site-specifically at the Judson Memorial Church.
3Christs: Theater review by Helen Shaw
SM Dale and Barry Rowell's 3Christs adapts The Three Christs of Ypsilanti, psychologist Milton Rokeach's 1964 case study, and you can see why the book—packed with drama and heady language—would be catnip to dramatists. Frustratingly, the stage version falters. The production bears the main fault here: In a bid for a “site-specific” frisson, Peculiar Works Project misuses the echoing Judson Church sanctuary and director Kelly O'Donnell offers us inventive staging but a seriously underprepared lead actor. Thus weird acoustics and hesitant pacing gravely undercut the play: Like certain saviors, the show needs time off (more than three days) before it's asked to rise again.
Even by the standards of midcentury therapy, the investigative set-up seems cruel. A psychologist gathers three schizophrenics together, each of whom believes he is Jesus. Will squabbling (“He's not Christ; I am!”) jolt them back to reality? A babe in the manger could tell you: no. Three fragile minds are further o'erthrown, and Rokeach is forcibly confronted with his own Messianic delusions. Dale and Rowell's adaptation adopts an unnecessary magical realist approach, so that halfway through, Dr. Milton (Christopher Hurt, groping for lines) transforms into a cape-wearing magician. Could we have missed the doctor's puppet-master ethic? Again, manger baby says nope.
This dramaturgical spoon-feeding contrasts with the excellence of the inmates' dialogue, which is rich, varied, funny and strange. Ultimately, though, casting is the production's alpha and omega: The institutionalized (Arthur Aulisi, Donald Warfield, Daryl Lathon) are all seriously gifted, yet their attendants are either unconvincing or lost. Within Dale and Rowell's fumbling piece is another, smaller play for just the trio of Christs—and that one might be good and true and affecting. Matthew said it in Chapter 18: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” He didn't say anything about a shrink.—Theater review by Helen Shaw