Hey Kids, Jesus is awesome! At least, the notion of Jesus is awesome when it inspires hysterically thought-provoking theater, as it does here in The New Colony’s world premiere if 11:11.
Playwrights Tara Sissom and Evan Linder delightfully imagine a Christian summer camp brimming with good intentions and charming characters. They are gearing up for the arrival of the kiddies but after a long inspirational hike in the woods four of the counselors take, what they think is, Aleve to sooth their sore muscles. The problem is, “It wasn’t Aleve. It was ecstasy.”
These are seasoned soul winners, NOT seasoned ravers and so when they start to trip things get very silly. Watching people get stoned is generally amusing for about five minutes, but seeing these naïve 20-somethings turn idiotically introspective on faith, forgiveness, love, lust and life proves to be a great ride for everyone.
The title 11:11 refers to a humorously and unintentionally misquoted Bible verse. The play seems simple enough but it is actually deceptively intelligent without being sermonizing. Faith is more than enthusiastic cheers, rote recitation of Bible verses or campfire songs, at least it should be. For some of the counselors this unexpected hallucinatory adventure raises questions that they didn’t dare previously ask themselves. For others, it highlights the doubts and dedication that were already in the foreground.
From the filter of a non-Christian recovering from a Fundamentalist Christian upbringing, it would be easy to look at these characters as two-dimensional dopes who parrot the propaganda that they have heard in church all of their lives. But Sissom and Linder’s script creates a natural nuance in the framework of this unusual environment.
They write fresh, interesting, intelligent and likable characters that start out as obvious but take on more depth as the story unfolds. This talented ensemble delivers them with enthusiasm, believability and care. I can see radical Christians being bothered by this play, but rational thinking people of any or no denomination will find it fascinating and funny.
A few years ago, I went to see a preview screening of the Academy Award-nominated documentary Jesus Camp. Its straightforward presentation of the brainwashing of Fundamentalist Christian Youth was frightening. Unbeknownst to me at first, I was sitting in the midst of a group of students from the Moody Bible Institute but as the film progressed I could tell from their reactions that I was not sitting with like-minded agnostics. Still, I could hear these kids saying things like, ‘That’s not what the Bible says.’ And, ‘They shouldn’t be teaching that to kids.’
11:11 delivers a similar experience but does it through a wonderfully entertaining romp, rather than a frighteningly realistic exposé. Jesus Camp shows a reality where there is no room for questioning faith. 11:11 presents the examination of belief through an absurd and entertaining set of circumstances that eliminates the judgmental bite. Whatever your convictions or non-convictions, you feel drawn in rather than left out.
Director Meg Johns renders the world of this religious vacuum with impressive insight and beautifully delivers the dramatic build with a soft but effective touch. The entire cast delivers exceptional performances of these poster kids for All-American cuteness, but Tara Sissom delivers the most effervescent delights and elicits the most explosive laughter with her performance of Tara. Her skills as a playwright and performer are the ‘crowns in heaven’ to this good-humored treatise on faith and devotion.
Nick Sieben’s scenic design manufactures Camp Methuselah Pines to perfection and Thea Lux’s original songs and incidental music are God-thusiastically terrific.
As a child I never went to Christian summer camp but I did have to suffer through year after year of vacation Bible school. These experiences ranged from a waste of precious summer vacation to frightening ‘hell, fire and brimstone’ horror shows. 11:11 proves to be a wonderful does of redemption for all of the time spent in the ‘Jesus camps’ of my youth without trampling on the faith of anyone in the process. From the faithful to the heathens, 11:11 is playfully provocative, great fun and excellent theater.
3 ½ STARS