April 16, 2010
The Cutting Ball Theater Company's production of a new play by Marcus Gardley, "...and Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi" has been extended for a week and is selling out fast. It's easy to see why. Gardley's language is tactile and poetic, the Demeter/Persephone Greek myth-based story about a mother's search for her daughter moves along with the fluidity and depth of the MIssissippi river thanks to Amy Mueller's rhythmic direction and the cast members act with an arresting sense of ensemble.
Best of all is the a cappella gospel and spiritual singing, which flows throughout the play. I rarely hear such visceral vocal music. The theatre is so small, the actors are so close to us and they singing is so ardent, that it's impossible not to feel completely drowned in the harmonies from the get-go. I was completely swept away.
On the other hand, the singing and staging make up for the shortcomings in Gardley's dramaturgy. At times, the play feels like second-rate Suzan-Lori Parks, with its twisted-archetypal characters with names like "Free Girl" and "Yankee Pot Roast" and gender- / genre-bending plotlines and poetics.
Gardley is a talented playwright with an original voice. His works "Love is a Dream House in Lorin" and "This World in a Woman's Hands" demonstrate his ability to moonwalk on water. He doesn't need to imitate other playwrights.