Jesus, drunks and talent

By PETER SHAPIRO
On January 22, 2013

  • Jesus Hates Me tells a tale that involves alcoholism and a Southern Americana - all while asking existential questions. Courtesy of American Repertory Theater of WNY

 

A massive imposing cross sits mockingly above hole 17 on the green at the Blood of the Lamb mini golf course. Beneath the cross, a small set of Texan flags, hard liquor, lawn chairs and a silent gopher are scattered around the hole.

Thursday night in the backroom of the Ascension Church on Linwood Avenue,director Michael Lodick premiered a brilliant showing of Wayne Lemon's Jesus Hates Me. This rendition of Lemon's play features a cast of six up-and-coming Buffalo talents and is a must-see even for those un-immersed in the broad local theater scene.

The play serves as a spin through pure Texan surrealism, mixed with comic drunken disorder and existential religious questioning.

The Bruce Springsteen-style small-town story of broken dreams revolves around protagonist Ethan (Matt Kindley) and his psychologically disturbed mother, Annie (Priscilla Young-Anker), who together co-own a Jesus-themed putt-putt golf course.

The hysterical and morosely intelligent production had hints ofMartin Heidegger and Freidrich Nietzsche's philosophies mixed withSouthern slide guitar - with some whiskey for good measure.

The characters, in all of their Saturday morning cartoon cliché, are delightfully charming and surprisingly relatable. Anthony Alcocer plays mildly unintelligent and borderline alcoholic redneck, Boon, who raucously occupies a space of a Texan Johnny Bravo with a death warrant.

The charismatic Maura Nolan portrays cynical barkeep Lizzy, owner of the local watering hole and a tragic beauty with her own story of loss and regret.

Bryan Figueroa, Buffalo native and graduate of Buffalo State College, plays Trane, a long-term friend of Ethan and the only black deputy sheriff in the state of Texas.

"The funny thing is that I am a Latino," Figueroa said. "So just approaching [Trane's character] is quite interesting for me. Recently, I looked into a professional wrestler named Booker T. who is from Texas."

Figueroa's character, who suffers a debilitating rear-end injury mid-plot, is brimming with attitude and one-liners. These quips emphasize Ethan's own lack of motivation and drive.

Though each character has his or her own notable characteristics,Young-Anker steals the show playing the disturbed yet endearing basket case Annie. 

"[She] is not quite in this reality," Young-Anker said. "There is something almost sweet about [her] absolute faith in Jesus. She is very matter of fact about it, very practical ... and her monument to Jesus is this golf course, the mannequinsdepicting the biblical characters."

The entire cast puts on an incredible act in this existential cry for help from the drunks andthe dreamers to Jesus.

In addition to the humorous aspects, however, songs of Hank Williams and deep Spanish accordion music serenade a darkly complex Freudian subplot.

Jesus Hates Meserves as an ideal Friday or Saturday night check-in, and at $10 for UB students on Thursdays, it's hard to pass up a comedy of this kind of absurdity and brilliance.

 

Email: arts@ubspectrum.com


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