“I’m Moses. Yeah, Moses. What? You were expecting maybe Charlton Heston?” The desert tour guide for the Israelites and parter of the Red Sea stands before some 80-plus diners chewing prime rib, salmon, baked potato, etc. Moses’ beard seems about to fall off. “Can you believe they got Charlton Heston to play me in that movie? I don’t think he could even say V chaim without giving himself a hernia.”
It’s heaven and/or the Cabrillo Dinner theater at Nimitz andrRosecrans in Point Loma on Friday night, but Moses is kvetching about the rock-and-roll act Dooked for Jesus’ birthday party enter-ainment. On the bill are Janis Joplin, Jimi dendrix, John Lennon, Freddie Mer-;ury, and John Belushi (with Hitler vorking security). Moses wants nice nusic by nice people, not decadent drug ddicts, whoremongers, and noisemakers. le is in the minority. “Someone like ammy Davis Jr.,” Moses suggests, would e a better casting choice for himself in Tie Ten Commandments. Also, pre-iimably, for birthday entertainment. Sure, he’s a Jew. Don’t you remember? le converted.”
Moses looks over at me. My nametag eads “Clyde Barrow” — part of the udience participation schtick. “Is that Hyde Barrow? Of the Bonnie and Clyde? low did they get into heaven? Oy! Clin-m must be giving out pardons again.” loses is working a tough room. Many : the diners are white and silver-haired, •inning gaseously, squinting with sus-cion at the stage and anticipating blas-lemy. They aren’t disappointed.
After Moses goes into a rap: “I was ilkin ’ through the desert with ma’ staff ma’ hand... I was told to go and find 2 promised land....” And during a it Broadway version of the same theme,
“Things Have Changed a Lot Around Here,” a beardless Jesus Christ enters stage left. After strains of “Jesus Christ Superstar” fade in the background, the Son of God proceeds to sun Himself in a deck chair with a folding reflector. Jesus urges Moses to “lighten up.”
The next musical number is Freddie Mercury’s plea for condom use in sex: “It’s called protection/ Don’t risk infection/ When you are giving an injection with affection.” All songs (except the few bars of Andrew Lloyd Weber) are originals penned by the playwright, Jason Mershon (former singer with the Box Tops after Alex Chilton). The taped background music to accompany the live singing is produced by Mershon and performed by Jerry Corbetta (from the band Sug-arloaf). The playwright originally fashioned the theatrical piece as a screenplay. Bill Richardson as Freddie Mercury looks much like the flaming martyr to AIDS and more than a dash of Dr. Frank N. Furter from The Rocky Horror Show. The vocal performance here is Broadway caliber, both angelic and demonic; blond, yet somehow brunette.
Freddie invites Belushi and Jesus onstage to select an audience member. Dick Nixon is chosen, a middle-aged guy who looks as if he might run a hardware store in the Midwest, or maybe he’s a guidance counselor in El Cajon. The comedian and the Son of God place a large condom package over the former president, and Mercury invites the audience to sing along, “Just follow the imaginary bouncing balls. Don’t risk infection...”
Several actors (if I may say actors) are often onstage at once. While I turned away momentarily, leaning over the table, studying “Bonnie Parker’s” unfinished baked potato and asking her, “Are you going to finish that?” — Sam Kinison took the stage. I didn’t notice he was up there until he started screaming at the audience — about what, I don’t know. I grabbed the potato during the distraction.
Now Moses was back complaining that these people don’t belong in Heaven. “And I thought the Marc Rich pardon was bad enough!”
Jesus: “Moses, have you been listening to Rush Limbaugh again?”
Jesus then launches into a song about memories and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and some other stuff that was unintelligible. Jesus was not only flat, He was often sharp as well, seeming to sing around a mouthful of unleavened bread, dancing horribly with an electric guitar. This, I believe, lent the deity humanity and accessibility; the divine meets the mortal in a communion of rock and roll. The message is clear: Heaven is potentially for everyone, rock music is a valid path to enlightenment. Lynyrd Skynyrd members are as welcome as Nfother Teresa. Those communicants in attendance, it is implied, will reap their reward in the afterlife.
In the next scene we are in Hell. David Lemmo, playing Satan, is cackling, strutting, fluttering his fingers in glee as he anticipates foiling the birthday party. His minions are two hot babes, one in fishnet stockings, the other in a kind of red Teddy. They are rather too adorable to be femme fatales. One of them asks Satan, “Do you have a plan?”
“Do I have a plan? Yes! No! Did Pandora have a great box? Did Medusa give great head?”
Just before the first act closes and Satan does his musical number, Moses begs John Lennon to sing some “nice” Beatles songs for Jesus’ birthday.
“Like” (singing) “Something in the way she walks....”
Lennon: “That was George.”
Moses (singing): “I get by with a little help from my friends....”
Moses: “The long and winding road....”
Moses: “Christ! You know it ain’t easy.”
Lennon: “That was me!”
(singing) “You know how hard it can be, the way things are goin’, they’re gonna crucify me.”
Jesus cuts him off, reminding John that it was He, Jesus, who was crucified. To which Lennon, turning away, mumbles under his breath, “Like getting shot in the chest was a walk in the park.”
Goethe’s Faustian themes are of course the thematic underpinning of the production, but it is interesting to see the existential motif of Brecht and O’Neill being woven through the landscape of Dante and Milton. Paying close attention, many puckish allusions to Ibsen and Chekhov are riddled throughout the subtext: Mama Cass and a ham sandwich are no longer mere Falstaffian tragedy but become metaphor for spiritual sustenance, communion, the narrow path to heaven. The presence of Cass and the vulnerability of Janis Joplin temper the depiction of Belushi as a Nietzschean hero. Jungian animus and anima, symbols of the Scylla and Charybdis of fleshly delights, the hazards on the shore of death and eternal life are rendered subtly by the actors as does Lemmo’s Satan: a Dionysian humping of a scantily clad dominatrix is elevated to Sophoclean resonance with the good-natured irreverence of Aristophanes, so popular with the kids nowadays.
Lizette Kent is the whip-wielding slave of Satan, Steven Paine is Belushi (and Elvis in the second act), Kristin D’Andrea does Patsy Cline and Marilyn Monroe.
Does the Prince of Lies manage to screw up the festivities? Find out next Friday night (or Saturday night) at 8 o’clock at the Cabrillo Dinner Theater. The show should run forever, but forever is an eyeblink in eternity, they say, so shoot for this summer. If you don’t want the $50 dinner package, cough up $ 10 for the production. Support the arts and save your soul.
Cabrillo Dinner Theater: 619-523-5656.