Jesus story has modern twist

Review: `Prophecy Fulfilled' includes comic plot lines, fine singing and an infant scene-stealer


June 07, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Joseph C. Dennie's "Prophecy Fulfilled" retells the story of Jesus in its ancient setting, but with a modern sensibility.

The final show of the season at Arena Players, this hodgepodge of a Biblical play features a dozen songs (written by Dante Speaks Sr.), a number of fictitious characters, and assorted snippets of colloquial speech.

For example, the dialogue includes such phrases as "no way," "face the facts" and "shut up." At one point, Mary's fictitious friend Ruth complains, "Men -- they're never around when you need them." And one of the three wise men has a wife named "Sheela."

One welcome bit of extrapolating is Joseph's initial refusal to believe Mary's account of her pregnancy. This plot turn is given a comic twist thanks to the addition of a character named Rachel. In love with Joseph and determined to prove that Mary isn't as pure as everyone thinks, Rachel advises Joseph in song: "Don't Be a Fool."

Arena produced an earlier version of "Prophecy Fulfilled" in 1987. Director D. LaFonde Holley first staged the current version, complete with Speaks' pop-Gospel score, at the New Psalmist Baptist Church two years ago. Arena's production includes singing by cast members as well as recorded music by the impressive church choir.

As is customary at Arena, many of the roles are double-cast. On opening night, the voices of Katrina Y. Jones, as Ruth, and Allan Gray, as her husband, blended nicely in the duet, "Unity in Love," and, in the role of Mary, Brandy G. Wright displayed touching emotion and strong vocal quality, particularly in the song, "I'm All Alone."

Overall, however, "Prophecy Fulfilled" seems better suited to the more forgiving setting of a church than a theater. Theatrical lore holds that children are natural scene-stealers, and Michael Akonnor Jr., the infant who took the part of the Baby Jesus on opening night, stole the hearts of the entire audience, glancing meaningfully at whichever actor was speaking or singing. His amazing stage presence was truly a case of "and a little child shall lead them."

Show times at Arena Players, 801 McCulloh St., are 8: 30 p.m. Fridays, 7: 30 p.m. Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays, through June 27. Tickets are $21. Call 410-728-6500.

Four plays in festival

The Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W. Va., begins rehearsals today for its ninth season, scheduled for July 7-Aug. 1. This year's line-up includes four plays, which will run in repertory.

Managing director Chris Kuser said last week, "The biggest news is that we added a fourth week. Last year was only three weeks, and this year it's four, and we've added weekday matinees. We've gone from 39 performances in 1998 to 62 performances."

The weekday matinees are on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and the festival will continue to present the Saturday and Sunday matinees. This means that out-of-town theatergoers who want to see all four productions in one marathon visit can do so by staying over either a Wednesday or Saturday night.

Here's the line-up:

"Compleat Female Stage Beauty," by Jeffrey Hatcher. Co-commissioned by the festival and the City Theater of Pittsburgh, where it will be produced in the late fall, this world premiere focuses on 17th-century actor Ned Kynaston. One of the leading actors to portray women during the Restoration, Kynaston finds his era waning as a new breed of performer arrives on the British stage -- the actress.

"The Water Children," by Wendy MacLoed. A drama about an actress who is pro-choice and takes a job starring in a right-to-life TV commercial, "The Water Children" features an unlikely romance, a ghost and a fanatic.

"Tatjana in Color," by Julia Jordan. Anthologized in "Women Playwrights: The Best Plays of 1997," Jordan's play, like Hatcher's, is also based on cultural history. In this case, the history concerns Austrian painter Egon Schiele, who was accused of having improper relations with a 12-year-old girl, who refused to testify against him. "Tatjana in Color" is her story.

"Coyote on a Fence," by Bruce Graham. This account of two inmates on Death Row is based partly on the true story of a Texas prisoner who edits a Death Row newspaper. The playwright is also a screenwriter whose credits include Jim Carrey's "Liar Liar" and last month's NBC docudrama, "The Hunt for the Unicorn Killer."

The Contemporary American Theater Festival is held at Shepherd College, Shepherdstown, W. Va., about 85 miles west of Baltimore. Four-play subscriptions range from $54-$66. Tickets to individual shows are $18-$22 (except for July 7 and 8, which are pay-what-you-can previews). Call 800-999-2283 or 304-876-3473 for show times.

Pub Date: 6/07/99

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