Fort Worth — Director Jay Duffer starts the show even before the curtain rises on The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) at Amphibian Stage Productions. How about the familiar strains of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to get us in the pun-filled spirit of laughter through reduction? Abridged. Get it?
The November election of President Trump reminded us of the force of the Judeo-Christian religious views in our society, particularly the furious fundamentalist version propelling the religious right of the Tea Party faction. Good timing for the Phibs of Fort Worth to reprise their 2013 hit production of this hilarious and irreverent parody of the Bible, the best-selling book in history. God knows, we can all use a laugh, and this production delivers the giggles and guffaws using every comic trick in the repertory.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company writers, Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, are known to many theatergoers for their compression of the complete works of the Bard of Avon into a comic summary performance. Here, they present the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament in chronological order, from Adam and Eve in fig leaves to the fiery judgment, broken into two acts at just over two hours, including a 15-minute intermission. Time flies when you’re covering a couple millennia.
Duffer returns as director of the show, together with tall, unflappable Brandon Murphy, as chief narrator and John Cleese-style arrogant dolt. Murphy plays the guitar and keyboards in an easy, languid style, while delivering a goofy joke about “the greatest story ever accepted as fact.”
Eager beaver Scott Zeinreich is back as the sidekick and nice guy who also plays all the female roles in a pumped, athletic style that makes him much funnier than mincing drag. His Salome is a belly-rolling hoot, and his Joseph, tarted up in costume designer Brittny Mahan’s swirling colored coat, is fit to be beat up. God also gave us funny puppets that come in handy in such situations.
The new man in this production is Aaron Fouhey. A natural comic with a sudden perplexed glance, Fouhey literally carries, in the form of a model ark, the show’s running joke about his owner’s deepest wish to elaborate on the story of Noah while the other guys are taking way too long with Genesis. It’s finally laid to rest with some willing audience participation. A risible audience on opening night laughed comfortably at all the stunts, even the deliberately bad puns. Maybe you never knew that “denial is more than a river in Egypt.” Well, it is. My personal favorite was the Axe of the Apostles shouldered manfully by Zenreich, exiting stage left.
From vaudeville songs to stand-up routines, from Three Stooges slam-bang body slides to some slick Marx Brothers winks, the three men play it close-up and confident, maintaining a sweet cool in a small space. They can juggle and do fire tricks, too!
Even at their zaniest, this smooth ensemble is never manic in some desperate attempt to wring a chuckle out of every bit. We laugh because the satire here leans on the fabulous nature of Bible stories, rather than the differences of theologies. Atheists, Christians, Muslims, Protestants—everybody ought to get a kick out of the playful ribbing of a wildly improbable stack of stories that have shaped Western civilization.
Dressed in socks and sandals and medieval-looking man dresses, the troupe stands in front of Sean Urbantke’s handsome faux-stone cathedral set, gothic arches and all. They open the show with a song called “In the Beginning Blues,” projecting a route from the innocence of Eden into a sci-fi future in which “every single person in the world will have their own sex robot.” Whoa! Murphy stifles a grin, and plays his guitar as he imagines God’s chagrin about the direction the world has taken.
We speed through the begats with a little help from a genealogy handout for the audience, with the Righteous Line spelled out and the Unrighteous line left blank. Why bother with facts, alternate or otherwise? A flood’s coming.
When we get to the book of Job, our crew updates the suffering script with a bit of timely pain. “I vow to be the next White House press secretary,” says one determined masochist. Now that’s suffering.
By the time we’ve made it through Act II and the New Testament, we’ve sorted out which Joseph had jealous brothers and which Joseph believed the story Mary told him about the father of her son. We’ve watched the Three Wise Men bring their gift bags with baseball gloves to the manger, and seen the birth of the Easter Bunny right before our eyes. He’s enormous.
What’s not to love about a summer show that has you laughing like a Sunday school truant and singing like a happy camper to appease a Noah’s arc fanatic? Not a thing. These guys make it all happen.