Wednesday, June 02, 2010
get mad at sin | off off broadway
Not Exactly Preaching to the Choir
Theatre review by Jason Zinoman, New York Times, June 2 2010
A basement theater in Long Island City is an unlikely place to see a miracle. But the Lord — and Off Off Broadway — works in mysterious ways.
At the Chocolate Factory, one of the most vital arts organizations in Queens, Jimmy Swaggart has returned to life. That Southern evangelist is technically still alive, but since he was caught patronizing a prostitute in 1987 and then weeping his way through an abject apology, some believers lost faith in him and many others viewed him as a joke.
In meticulously recreating one of Mr. Swaggart’s early 1970s culture-war sermons (from a vinyl record) in “Get Mad at Sin!” Andrew Dinwiddie reintroduces us to a gifted orator, compelling performer and thunderous moralizer in his prime. It’s a surprisingly generous act of resuscitation.
Strutting back and forth on a pink carpet, kicking up his legs and swooning at his own rhetoric, Mr. Dinwiddie as Mr. Swaggart breaks into a sweat but never loses his cool. He tosses in theatrical pauses and even some slang to attack the evils of homosexuality, premarital sex and acid rock. Mr. Dinwiddie’s powerful voice contains the echo of the great Baptist preachers as well as a breathy rumble that approaches the erotic.
But this is no Reverend Billy-like satire featuring winks at the hipster crowd or political cheap shots. The director, Jeff Larson, lets this fascinating historical document, which diagnoses a culture lurching toward oblivion, speak for itself, absent biography, context or comment. It’s an interesting strategy and emphasizes the stemwinder as a work of theater.
When inveighing against the evils of pop music, Mr. Swaggart (a cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis) seems to be aping Mick Jagger, providing a reminder that great public performances of all kinds often share certain qualities. Mr. Swaggart had incredible timing as well as rhetorical cleverness: as much as he lambasted show business, he knew that a Patsy Cline reference could capture an audience’s attention.
It’s doubtful that any of those listening left the theater and threw out their miniskirts to avoid the sinful repercussions, but the sound of the audience during the performance did tell a story. Early snarky titters gave way to reverent silence. Listen closely and you might have heard a kind of conversion.
“Get Mad at Sin!” continues through Saturday at the Chocolate Factory, 5-49 49th Avenue, Long Island City, Queens; (212) 352-3101; chocolatefactorytheater.org