Red Letter Jesus at Provision Theater: Theater review
A passionate performance and interesting concept can’t save this one-dimensional one-man show.
The Bible, weighty significance and religious connotations aside, is a pretty good story. For Atlanta-based performer Brad Sherrill, like centuries of artists and scholars before him, it’s the inspiration behind his work, and in the case of Red Letter Jesus, Sherrill’s one-man show now playing at Provision Theater, it’s also the actual script. The show takes only Jesus’ actual words (presented in some versions of the Bible in red lettering) as recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and weaves them into one long sermon of sorts. It’s a promising—or at least interesting—premise, and Sherrill’s a talented actor and orator. But stripped of their context and tangled in the audience’s preconceived notions of the subject matter, the words largely fall flat as a compelling piece of drama.
Set against a backdrop of original video footage of Israel and Jordan (captured by multimedia designer and production manager Mark Hickman) that swings from captivating documentary to cheesy Sunday school images through the performance, Red Letter makes disciples of its audience members, with Sherrill’s Jesus addressing theatergoers as if they were part of his beloved inner circle of followers. The effect is sometimes powerful. Sherrill grasps hands walking up the aisles and holds shoulders speaking directly to others, embodying the engaging communicator his character was worshipped for being with committed fervor and reverence. The problem is stringing together only Jesus’ words without the context of who they’re being said to, when, where and why robs them of meaning and potential richness, and, framed as a theatrical experience, makes them hard to follow and at times a little boring, whether you’re familiar with (or believe in) the stories or not.
Sherrill specializes in this kind of “faith-based theater,” having previously created and toured with The Gospel of John and Prophets, based on the texts of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and even acknowledges in his program note he “realize[s] that much of which is beautiful in the Gospel story has been sacrificed” in this work but argues he thinks audiences will agree “the benefits of the endeavor far outweigh the losses.” Noble as his intentions may be, in this case, Sherrill seems to be he of too much faith.