FRINGE: 4 shows about religion

Jesus Master Buillder - A Divine Comedy GigCity Fringe EdmontonIt’s good they still have a “religious content” warning in the Fringe program – but they should go a little further: Believer or Non-Believer. For there’s nothing worse for a heathen than expecting a good old God-bashing rant at the Fringe only to find a bunch of True Believers have commandeered the event as a pulpit for preaching what a swell guy Jesus was. What’s a God-not-fearing atheist to do?

Jesus Master Builder – A Divine Comedy (Venue 1)

3 out of 5

Here we have an ambitious Biblical comedy mounted by admitted Christians who use the excuse that since God invented comedy, it’s OK to have a laugh at His expense.

Some of the puns are a sin:

“You are in deep de nile.”

Jesus responds: No, you’re on dry land!”

God says: “Who’s your daddy?!”

Jesus doesn’t show up for a meeting, and someone says, “Where’s your Messiah now?”

After sustaining a minor leg injury, someone says: “I was counting on Jesus to be the saviour of my shins!”

Are atheists funnier than Christians? You be the judge.

The story, which would’ve worked fine as a five-minute comedy skit, focuses on young Jesus Christ’s career as a carpenter. His real dad Joseph (as opposed to His weekend dad, God) was a carpenter, so of course Jesus went into the family business before he became the Messiah. He sucks as a carpenter, unfortunately, and some of His clients around Galilee are getting frustrated their houses are falling apart.

“Jesus Christ!” they shout, taking the Lord’s name in vain.

“When will Jesus come?!” they wail the lament of the homeowner waiting for the contractor who promised to come on Tuesday, but never shows up.

Ha, ha.

Sinful gags aside, this show isn’t the disaster it could’ve been. You don’t have to know the Bible, but it helps. Christians laughing at Christianity has natural limits. The best comedy exists in an absence of icons, and there is no greater icon for Christians than Jesus Christ. They can only go so far.


In Search of Cruise Control BYOV 13:

5 out of 5

In Search of Cruise Control GigCity Fringe EdmontonIn the best “religious content” show of this year’s Fringe, James Gangl throws quite the truth bomb into his rambling coming-of-age comedy – a series of candid vignettes detailing his own sexual awakening in the wake of a strict Catholic upbringing. If this show doesn’t make you cry after having made you cry with laughter, then you have no soul.

A formative moment: Gangl’s Catholic mother gave her son his first sex talk at the age of five, after he’d discovered a copy of Hustler magazine. “Those women,” mom hissed, “They are DEVILS!” Whereupon offending smut was burned in the garden. The second sex talk was at age 12, after his mom walked in during the one and only 45-second sex scene in The Terminator, which Gangl knows by heart, and performed it flawlessly. “James!” mom shouts, and snaps off the TV. Her advice this time: “Women can rape men, too.” Gee, thanks, mom!

So you see where this is going – only you can’t. Turns out religion isn’t the main target here.

Along the way to a startling revelation is a sharp, clever monologue honed from many performances. This isn’t Gangl’s first brave crack at revealing his entire sexual history to a roomful of strangers. By now he’s got it down. He’s part of the legacy of troubled actors and stand-up comedians turning their acts into public therapy sessions. It appeared to work wonders for the patient – and in this case, for the audience, too.


Basic Witch – Venue 1

4 out of 5

Basic Witch GigCity Fringe EdmontonThis is only a religious show insomuch as it’s set in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, where a bunch of women were hanged (not burned) for the crime of witchcraft. These horrific murders at the hands of the Puritan establishment remain a powerful symbol for the repression of women in America – and now it’s the setting for a fast-paced sketch comedy show!

It’s a great premise, and well-executed, with plenty of silliness, slapstick and heaps of withering scorn directed at religious fundamentalists. The Toronto comedy troupe FomoSapiens takes things over the top in several sketches – one that involves eating a baby. Witches! An attempt at a 1692 version of The Vagina Monologues is a nice piece of satire, while a bit that imagines the author of Snow White’s first meeting with her publisher punches up America’s obsession with Jesus Christ.

As they point out in the beginning of the show, referencing Donald Trump, not much has changed.


An Evening With the Heaven’s Gate Singers – Venue 2

2 out of 5

Here is a malformed nugget of a germ of a good idea stretched painfully into a longform play that explores the intersection between religious and secular society.

It starts with a set-up that has also become a free-standing punchline: Two priests walk into an agent’s office …

It’s hard to tell if this comedy-drama about two men of the cloth going into show business is ripping on religion or not, or even whether the performers are believers. Perhaps it doesn’t matter.

Catholics get the stick this time. Trent Wilkie – a better actor than he is a singer – plays Father Delghetti, who meets the kindly, bearded, guitar-strumming Father Bob (Jean-Paul JP Fournier) and immediately gets the brilliant idea to form a singing duo. All proceeds will go to charity, of course.

Minus the agent’s commission, and those catering tables aren’t free. Enter Ken Valgardson, who is in real life a veteran local stand-up comic and as the slimy promoter “Stu Middleman” brings stereotypical schtick to this modern Bing Crosby-esque road tale.

There are a few good jokes here, it touches on social issues, and there’s even a plot to hold it together – but what this play desperately needs is a good work-over by a professional dramaturge. Prayers can only go so far.