WEST COAST PREMIERE
January 30 - March 1, 2009
Jesus Hates Me
by Wayne Lemon
Directed by Artistic Director Oanh Nguyen
- 02/06/09 REVIEW: Orange County Register
- 02/07/09 REVIEW: Stage Happenings
- 02/10/09 REVIEW: Stage Scene LA
- 02/11/09 REVIEW: Los Angeles Times
- 02/11/09 REVIEW: Back Stage West
- 02/16/09 REVIEW: Fullerton Observer
'Jesus Hates Me' wrings laughs from its dramatic core
Review: West Coast premiere staging in Anaheim Hills peers closely at religion in a small Texas town.
by Eric Marchese, Orange County Register
"Jesus Hates Me" is sure to offend many just by its title alone. Its writer, Wayne Lemon, probably wouldn't mind that, as long as those so offended took a look at the 2005 play in its West Coast premiere at the Chance Theater.
The fact that the play is packaged as a comedy should help some of its more bitter medicine go down a little easier. "Jesus," though, is anything but a laugh-a-minute comedy. Its chuckles are peppered over a dramatic foundation of substance, grounded in basic truths about theology.
Lemon is a keen observer of human flaws and frailties. The play's sextet of characters, residents of an arid small town in south central Texas, have given up on life. Cynical to the core, they want to hope but just don't have it in them.
The story's focus is Ethan (Chance Dean), an ex-high school football star who blew out his knee during a big game and, with it, his one chance for a life beyond his birthplace.
His devoutly religious mom, Annie (Karen Webster), runs the "Blood of the Lamb" miniature golf course, using mannequins from Wal-Mart dressed up to look like Bible figures. Annie's mood swings keep Ethan feeling guilty - a fact Annie uses to keep him from ever leaving her.
In episodic fashion, "Jesus" follows Ethan over several days as he prepares to move to Colorado. We meet Ethan's only friend, Trane, a policeman; the beer-guzzling, womanizing Boone; Lizzy, a girl Ethan loved briefly in high school and who still loves him; and Lizzy's kid brother Georgie, who tried to blow his head off with a rifle and missed, wounding his larynx.
None of these characters is happy. Booze, drugs and sex are the coping mechanisms of choice.
Lemon's text is essentially character-based situational humor given a Southern twang. "Jesus Hates Me," though, does more than just toss off a blasphemous remark here and there; it offers a close-up look at Ethan, questioning the nature of Christ's power to heal even while begging for it.
If anything characterizes the young man's dilemma, it's his tortured relationship with Annie. He calls her by her first name. She'll do anything for his attention. Leave town, and he saves himself, but dooms her. Stay, and he continues to drown in misery.
Just 25, Ethan is convinced that "God is playing whack-a-mole with us" and that Jesus sacrificed for us "just so we can screw around and not burn for it."
Naturally, Ethan's resentment levels are high, and Lemon allows his focal character to express his anger not only at Annie but at Christ as well.
Despite his cynicism, Ethan can't help but wonder what Christ's salvation must feel like. Did Christ have any regrets, he asks, and "what else went through his mind?"
Director Oanh Nguyen's staging is top-notch, as are his performers, led by Dean, whose stooped shoulders and nasal drawl help project the quiet pain beneath Ethan's taciturn exterior.
Annie's philosophy is that "life is broken beyond repair," and Webster is fierce and feisty but also suitably woebegone.
Lizzy has been disillusioned for years, and Jennifer Ruckman offers a credible mixture of self-sufficiency and hunger for intimacy with Ethan.
As "the only black deputy sheriff in Texas," Trane is cynical and streetwise yet self-assured in a job he absolutely loves. Timothy Covington has a forceful yet easy and wholly natural delivery complemented by subtle comic timing.
A rasping, mechanical-sounding voice, Georgie's electrolarynx is, like the character himself, tragicomic. Ben Green plays him straight up, allowing the audience to choose whether to laugh at or be moved by this confused young man.
The coarse, swaggering Boone is dense, thoughtless and self-destructive, traits played by Dimas Diaz both for belly laughs and for their dramatic content. Diaz gets laughs with Boone's petulance and selfishness, and when Boone claims to have "found the truth" through Jesus, everyone (including us) knows it's a sham.
For those seeking unbridled laughter, "Jesus" is a balm. Lemon skillfully merges dozens of minute details to form a seriocomic mosaic. Up close, much of it is pointedly funny. From a distance, it's sickly-sad.
The play is the opener of the Chance Theater's 11th season. During the rehearsal process, Lemon made changes to his script, a testament to his fidelity to his craft, but also testament to the troupe's dedication to its mission of inspiring artistic expression in Orange County.
Freelance writer Eric Marchese has covered entertainment for the Register since 1984.
Jesus Hates Me
by Shirle Gottlieb, Stage Happenings
Somewhere in the barren desert of South-Central Texas, a beat-up Wal-Mart mannequin gazes down from a wooden cross near the 17th-hole of the "Blood of the Lamb" Miniature Golf Course.
How's THAT for a
This outrageous image is a blasphemous spin on The Crucifixion, of course; but it's only the beginning of what's on stage in The Chance Theater production of a dark comedy called "Jesus Hates Me."
According to Annie (the wacky, bi-polar mother in Wayne Lemon's latest work), the Lord's presence is her salvation. Without unconditional faith in what the stolen Wal-Mart mannequin represents, Annie would be out of control all of the time--not just part of it.
But what about Ethan, her twenty-something-year-old son who is tied to this God-forsaken place? What about his dreams? A college grad and ex-football star, Ethan longs to move on and find a life for himself. But if he leaves, what will become of his ding-bat mother?
He tried it once before and has had nightmares ever since.
And how about the other characters in this dead-end slice of life? They too are trapped. When they were young and innocent they each had dreams for the future; but slowly, over time, they've become empty shadows of themselves. Day by day the years fly by with the
help of booze, drugs and sex.
Such is the setting of Lemon's dark irreverent comedy, and director Oanh Nguyen has a firm grip on the dramatic pulse of it all. Under his superb insight, the bawdy humor is so hysterical you'll split your sides laughing; while you're cringing inside in recognition of what's happening.
Kudos to Karen Webster for her convincing portrayal of Annie, the over-zealous, emotionally unbalanced mother; and to Chance Dean, for his heart-felt portrait of a good son who is slowly dying because he can't desert his mother--no matter how kooky she behaves.
Also outstanding are Timothy Covington as Trane, the town's pot-smoking, jovial black sheriff, who can keep his job as long as he "keeps his place"; and Dimas Diaz as Boone, an out-of-work, beer-swilling, pain-in-the-butt loud-mouth who sponges off of everyone.
Of course there's gotta' be a girl in the plot, and Jennifer Ruckman (last seen in The Chance's wonderful production of "Rabbit Hole"), is totally convincing as Lizzy. Independent but lonely, she runs the town's seedy bar and has a life-long crush on Ethan.
As for her younger brother Georgie (Ben Green), he can only speak with the aid of an electrical device. Many years ago when he was drunk, he tried to kill himself by putting a gun in his mouth. It didn't blow his brains out, but it completely destroyed
his vocal cords.
For two hours these desperate characters try to find meaning in their lives after a long series of disappointments caused them to abandon their dreams. Lemon's human comedy is about their struggle, and by extension it's the struggle of everyone in the audience.
This production of "Jesus Hates Me" is generously supported by The Lear Family Foundation. It continues at The Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills, through March 1. Performances take place Fri.-Sat., at 8:00; Sun., at 2:00 & 7:30.
Jesus Hates Me
by Steven Stanley, Stage Scene LA
Life in small town South Central Texas is anything but dull in Jesus Hates Me, Wayne Lemon's quirky dark comedy getting its West Coast Premiere in a beautifully acted and directed (by Oanh Nguyen) production at Anaheim Hill's Chance Theater.
Ethan (the coincidentally named Chance Dean) was a champion high school football player until a busted knee ended any future as a college athlete and condemned him to a life of small town drudgery. It doesn't help that his bipolar 40something Bible-thumping mother Annie (Karen Webster) is either manic or suicidal (and only normal when she's sleeping), or that his ill-mannered- recently homeless good-ol'-boy buddy Boone (Dimas Diaz) is going to be staying with them in their trailer, barely large enough to accommodate mother and son.
Annie owns (and Ethan works at) the Blood Of The Lamb Miniature Golf Course, which features a life-sized store mannequin Jesus-on-the-cross at its 17th hole. Fed up with this go-nowhere life, Ethan is contemplating accepting his brother's offer to teach skiing and horseback-riding at a gay resort in Colorado (despite the fact that Ethan has never skied or ridden a horse in his life).
Moving away will mean not only abandoning his mother but leaving behind Lizzie, his high school sweetheart (Jennifer Ruckman), proprietor of Lizzie's, a roadside bar inherited from her father. Though Ethan and Lizzie broke up following her father's death (and their one instance of lovemaking), she is still a part of his life, and the possibility of their almost unconsummated love reigniting is never far from the surface.
Adding to the complications are Georgie (Ben Green), Lizzie's younger brother, and Trane (Timothy Covington), the lone African American deputy sheriff in the state of Texas. Georgie, who works as a dishwasher at Lizzie's, speaks with an electronic voice synthesizer, the result of his having blown out his larynx in a failed suicide attempt on his high school graduation day. Trane is Ethan's best friend, a highway cop who'll let Ethan go with a warning and then pull a joint from behind his ear and offer his buddy a few tokes. (At least Trane has found a reason in life, something Ethan can't seem to figure out.)
Jesus Hates Me's first act is comically off-kilter, a sort of Del Shores' Sordid Lives on acid. Annie attempts to reattach Jesus to the cross with duct tape, a wind storm having wreaked havoc on the golf course the night before. She later admits to shoplifting a mannequin head to replace the one belonging to "the woman caught in adultery," blown away by the storm. As to her other son being gay, well, can't he just "fight those urges?" And how dare anyone suggest that Jesus might have been queer. "Lots of men live with their parents until they're thirty!" Then there's the matter of her performing a striptease in one of the local stores-all the way down to her bra and panties, and pole-dancing to music only she could hear.
Meanwhile, Boone has just lost his job blowing holes in the ground to make swimming pools (on his very first day at work) because "Technically, I might have blowed up a dog." He's also being pursued by the funeral home-owning husband of a woman with whom he was having "Coffin Sex"-who got wind of the affair when he found Boone's "man fluid" in one of his coffins. (Boone's philosophy: "Man just needs three things in life. Pussy, beer, and . pussy.") And when Ethan wakes up the next morning in his tighty-whities, he finds Boone outside in a lawn chair in an identical pair, having borrowed one of Ethan's. (What was he to do? He'd left all his clothes behind in the funeral home.)
Things turn starkly realistic in Act 2, giving the cast (so offbeat/amusing in Act 1) the chance to strut their dramatic stuff. Ruckman, a Chance Theater company member who's never anything less than excellent (or gorgeous), is particularly powerful in the scene where Lizzy reveals just how much she loves Ethan, and the effect her father's death had on their high school relationship. Opposite her, Dean (recalling another Dean named James) shows layers of pain under Ethan's handsome exterior, especially when he explains to Lizzy his fears that their relationship is too right, too perfect, that Jesus is just setting them up for a fall. ("You get cervical cancer and you die.") Dean later has another great scene opposite the hanging-from-the-cross Jesus mannequin in which he pours out his anger and frustrations at a God whose been f-ing with him for longer than Ethan can remember.
Chance company members Diaz and Webster have never been better, and that's saying a lot. Diaz is simply mesmerizing as Boone, foul-mouthed, hilarious and heartrending at the same time, and the same can be said for Webster, who throws inhibitions to the wind as the deeply conflicted Annie, alternately middle-aged sex kitten and suicidal depressive. Covington, a dynamic presence as Trane, is never anything less than completely real and spontaneous. Finally, Cal State Fullerton student Green is heartbreakingly funny and touching as suicide attempt survivor Georgie.
With Jesus Hates Me, Chance co-founder Nguyen adds another notch on his belt of directorial triumphs, molding his cast's three-dimensional performances and working with his design team to create a visually striking production. Set designer Starlet Jacobs transforms the Chance stage into a dry dustbowl of a Texas town, with flower-festooned trailer, and seedy bar, and Jesus on a cross in front of a multicolored sky. K.C. Wilkerson's vivid lighting design includes a particularly dazzling moment in which the audience suddenly finds itself surrounded by multi-colored Christmas lights. Erika C. Miller's pitch-perfect costumes and Dave Mickey's moody sound design complete the vivid picture Nguyen has imagined.
Jesus Loves Me may not be "for all audiences," i.e. probably not for those on the far right of the religious spectrum. On the other hand, the Chance Theater has a history of edgy, daring productions, and its audience knows they will not be seeing anything too sweet, at least not until December's Little Women rolls around. Though Jesus Hates Me does have its occasional sweet moments, it's the acidic ones that make it such a treat.
Chance Theater, 5555 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills. Through March 1. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00 and 7:00. Reservations: 714 777-3033 www.chancetheater.com
Jesus Hates Me
by Eric Marchese, Back Stage West
Billed as a dark comedy, Wayne Lemon's 2005 play is more of a dramedy, with as much darkness and despair as laughs. Oanh Nguyen's staging of the play's West Coast premiere emphasizes the interrelationships of the six characters, letting the laughs fall where they may. The setting, an arid small town in South Central Texas, would drive anyone to despair. Ethan (Chance Dean) is an ex-high school football star who would have left long ago but for blowing out a knee, then being coerced into helping Annie (Karen Webster) -- his possessive, devout Christian mom -- run a miniature golf course decorated with Wal-Mart mannequins transformed into figures from the Bible. Dean is especially powerful as the wounded Ethan, who drinks heavily to blot pains both physical and emotional and the feeling that Christianity is a sham offering nothing but false hope.
Most of the play's dramatic heat is generated by Ethan and Annie, roles courageously inhabited by Dean and Webster. Jennifer Ruckman serves up romantic tension as Lizzy, who has loved Ethan ever since their lone sexual encounter in high school and who chides him for not standing up to mom and getting out of Dodge. Timothy Covington displays relaxed, natural delivery and assured comic timing as Ethan's only friend: a pot-smoking black deputy sheriff. Dimas Diaz is even more overtly comedic in the role of Boone, a hard-drinkin' good-old-boy who seduces other men's wives -- or mothers. Ben Green mixes laughs and pathos as Lizzy's kid brother, whose failed suicide attempt has left him with an "electro-larynx" (mechanical voice box). Some may find the handling of religious themes blasphemous and therefore offensive, but there's little here in terms of content or characterization that you wouldn't find on television, the medium where Lemon cut his teeth before writing this, his first play.
Presented by and at the Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim. Jan. 31-Mar. 1. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m. (714) 777-3033 or Chance Theater.
'Jesus Hates Me' at Chance Theater
by David C. Nichols, Los Angeles Times
Deep in the heart of South Central Texas, disillusion butts heads with zealotry, nowhere more than the Blood of the Lamb Miniature Golf Course, with its crucified Christ over Hole 17. That alone is sufficient impetus for Ethan (Chance Dean) to retrench, as if his shattered football dreams and Nietzche readings weren't enough. Ethan's escape has one inexorable obstacle: Annie (Karen Webster), his bipolar single mother, who swipes mannequin parts from Wal-Mart. That's just for starters.
This is "Jesus Hates Me" at the Chance Theatre. In its West Coast premiere, Wayne Lemon's irreverent dramedy about the search for meaning may offend as often as it convulses, but it's certainly vivid.
On Starlet Jacobs' superbly evocative set, "Jesus Hates Me" suggests a putting match between Del Shores and Larry McMurtry refereed by Ricky Gervais. From the first scene of drunk-driving Ethan and pot-smoking deputy Trane (the excellent Timothy Covington), Lemon's narrative is both wildly inappropriate and keenly idiomatic.
Doubly remarkable, given that Ethan and his fellow denizens are full-blown archetypes. There's bar-owner Lizzy (nuanced Jennifer Ruckman), Ethan's biggest missed opportunity; suicidal Georgie (unaffected Ben Green), her larynx-free brother (don't ask); and Boone (fearless Dimas Diaz), the town's resident doofus, who is responsible for the most riotous twists.
That they surmount their Southern Gothic contours is a testament to Oanh Nguyen's detailed direction, an impressive design effort, K.C. Wilkerson's lighting (a show in itself) and the wonderful cast. Dean, rangy and sensitive, is a find, the disturbingly invested Webster has never been better, and so goes the roster.
A principal flaw: Former TV scribe Lemon laces his debut play with acerbic zingers, often when narrative and characters are otherwise most authentic. Yet if "Jesus Hates Me" isn't actually as outrageous or original as it behaves, there's compassionate point beneath its quirky corrosion.
"Jesus Hates Me," Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 1. $30-$35. (714) 777-3033. Running time: 2 hours.
'Jesus Hates Me'
by Joyce Rosenthal, Fullerton Observer
Chance Theater presents the West Coast premiere of Wayne Lemon's play Jesus Hates Me.
The setting is South Central Texas where Annie owns and runs the Blood of the Lamb Miniature Golf Course; she is bi-polar and her sanity is questionable; her son Ethan lives and works with her. We see the seventeenth hole of the golf course graced by a life-sized Jesus on a cross; Jesus was purchased at Wal-Mart and is lovingly tended to by Annie. When one arm appears to drop, she quickly uses duct tape to remedy the situation.
Lizzy presides over Lizzy's bar. Since her father named and bequeathed the bar to her, she is reluctant to leave. Her brother Georgie helps out. He tried to commit suicide but the shotgun blast only destroyed his vocal cords and he now speaks with the aid of an electronic device.
Trane, the local policeman is also the only African-American in town. He is very conscious of the image he has to uphold and ultimately becomes a hero when he arrests a child molester, although he shoots himself in the process.
Rounding out the cast is Boone, a beerswilling redneck who has a dismal employment record. He lost his last job on the first day because he blew up a dog.
Ethan's brother has offered him a job in Colorado. Annie insists she will die if Ethan goes away while Ethan feels he will die if he stays. Meanwhile, Lizzy hopes Ethan stays so she can rekindle the relationship she thought they had after a onenight stand many years ago.
All of the characters are flawed, wishing, wanting and waiting for "someone" who will make it happen for them. They expect this "someone" to be Jesus and wonder why he isn't listening to them. They are neither willing nor capable of taking any action to relieve their plight.
Despite all of the above, Jesus Hates Me is not a gloomy tragedy but rather a dark comedy with lots of comic dialogue and several fast-paced, funny scenes.
The Set Design by Starlet Jacobs and Lighting Design by K.C. Wilkerson are outstanding and add immeasurably to the show.
The first act proceeds slowly but Director Oanh Nguyen picks up the pace in the second act. He also gets good performances from the cast with a particularly touching performance by Karen Webster (Annie) and a rowdy, effective performance by Dimas Diaz (Boone).
This is not a play for everyone, but if you don't mind irreverence, adult language and characters who are not "the salt of the earth," then by all means go see Jesus Hates Me.
From: Fullerton Observer