God's pun-ishment

Red Lights and Dragons

By Herman Raucher
Directed by Charles Loffredo
IRT New Directions
Samuel Beckett Theater
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Sarah Stevenson

Jesus was, if nothing else, gloriously Christlike. That deep voice, charming and solicitous manner, that long silky hair, that Burberry trench coat... Burberry trenchcoat? OK, maybe not the trenchcoat, but that voice! Kevin Shine had that voice down. A voice you can trust to solve all of the world's problems. . . but back to Jesus in a minute.

Red Lights and Dragons is the bittersweet tale of Josh Littlefield (Carl Strummer), who lost his wife and child a few years back in a tragic ``act of god,'' a freak boating accident. He seems, however, to be getting on just fine. A great job as an advertising executive, a wonderful girlfriend, Marge (Dori Kelly), who wants to marry him, and a fabulous book deal with a brash, sexy young publisher (Courtney Rohler).

The troubles seem to start with the book deal. When he quits his job, the tome comes between him and Marge, who laments ``I start out falling in love with men and end up divorcing writers.'' Kelly delivers this and other witty lines with a wry smile, and it is she who provides the solid emotional center to the play.

But Josh seems to be slipping away from her. She discovers he has not ``just quit'' his job but was actually fired months before, that his publisher does not exist, or has, at least, been dead for 50 years, and more revelations follow. Asked by mutual friend Charlie (James Sutton) ``do you think there's a book?'' her response is quiet but devastating: ``I'm just hoping there's a Josh.''

For indeed Josh seems to be slipping away not only from Marge, but from reality in general, surrounding himself with ghosts, including his wife and child (Lisa Tracy and Sara Kate Zelle) and is determined to turn back the time, to relive and rearrange the past, even if that means being declared crazy by the rest of the world. He believes in his visions, in the fact that he can return if he tries hard enough, and that if you have to go ``through craziness to get to happiness,'' you should do it, a point that Jesus reassures him about.

Wait, Jesus? Ah yes, the guy in the trenchcoat. For Josh also runs into the Messiah in the park, and this is where the plot weakens, devolves into silliness. For it so happens that the book Josh has written is in fact a new Bible, a modern rewriting of the scriptures that calls into question the attribution of ``acts of God.'' But as we learn more about this ``Bible'' it deconstructs itself into stupidity and bad jokes: Jesus as a boy on a basketball team called the Disciples (in which they never pass ``Judas'' the ball); Jonah stuck in a Ramada Inn, not a whale, and the like. And Shine's ``Jesus'' is a frustrated actor who complains of his plight as that of ``so many sons of successful fathers'' who have to go into their fathers' businesses.

Which is all well and good, but the poignancy of Josh's desire to rewrite his life, and the life of God along with it, never seems to quite mesh with the stupidity of his book. Its purpose seems to be to illustrate Josh's insanity, but insanity can be achieved without bad puns.

David Martin created a streamlined but elegant set, enhanced by Frank DenDanto III's masterful lighting. Anne Lommel's costumes were superb. (Also featuring Glen Williamson, Judy Stone, and Sandra Bloom.)

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 1
Acting 2
Set 2
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 2
Copyright 1996 Sarah Stevenson

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