Jesus Rant: The Religio-Comic Ravings of a Former Christian
nytheatre.com review by Lois Spangler
August 10, 2007
Jesus Rant: The Religio-Comic Ravings of a Former Christian isn't a play, or a one-man show; it's storytelling in the tradition of Spalding Gray's monologues. In this hour-long performance, H. R. Britton tackles his Protestant evangelical Christian upbringing in a way that, appropriately enough, reminded me of Jacob wresting the angel.
The venue [Players Theater Loft] is a small black-box theater; Britton occupies a single stool but will occasionally go digging through a couple of suitcases—emotional baggage, perhaps?—he brings out when he first appears on stage, filled with texts on Jesus, and with pieces of correspondence between himself and his grandfather, which is a central theme in Britton's own relationship with the religious and historical Jesus. The venue is absolutely perfect for this kind of performance and invites an intimacy between performer and audience that's not often seen today.
Britton is very casual in his presentation; it's almost as if he's chatting with friends, telling them stories about his childhood and growing up in a family that never hesitated to perform prayer circles to intervene against temptation and the sins of the flesh. This tone renders the title of the show inaccurate. It's not a rant, really; he's not angry enough to be ranting. But that's one of the most engaging aspects of the show—instead of being an hour of knee-jerk reaction and invective against evangelical Christianity, it's a well-thought out and heartfelt series of anecdotes about his changing perceptions and relationships with Jesus, as mediated by Pop-Pop, his born-again grandfather.
However, that's all that we get; just a series of anecdotes. Which is a shame, because with just a little more work, with just a few more words, each of the anecdotes presented could easily tie into a central theme and draw conclusions and make a very powerful emotional impact. There is little drama, and there is no throughline, no overarching story linking all the smaller episodes. Actually, this isn't true; those things are there, but Britton approaches them and then walks right by them, almost as if he's too afraid of recognizing them, bringing them to light, of confronting them or even offending the audience with them.
In that sense, this piece feels very much like it's still being workshopped, and I sincerely hope it's still being honed and polished, because what Britton has to say is very relevant in contemporary society, where religion seems to be something practiced in extremes, and there is no middle ground for dialogue between the dogmatic and the secular. Britton can be that bridge; he talks of his deep and fervent childhood belief in Jesus, of inviting the Savior into his heart, of the process of redemption, and moves on to talk about his own process of discovering the "real" Jesus, the historical Jesus obscured from him by his family—in particular by Pop-Pop. His presentation needs just a little more gravitas, but not too much, because it's his clean and simple one-on-one delivery that's so compelling. And he and co-director Maia Garrison need to take a little time and bring out those themes of understanding Jesus, of coming to terms with Pop-Pop's role in Britton's life, wrapping those anecdotes like ribbons around a maypole of a throughline.
With just a little more work, Jesus Rant will become a compelling and moving tale of one man's changing relationship with Jesus, a story of spiritually growing up—a very human tale that anyone, Christian or otherwise, can relate to.