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Photograph by Jeanine Brown/Eagan Studios

A Head of His Time: Derek McCaw (left) and Mike Inouye serve up Tom Gough's head in pursuit of some biblical laughs in the story of John the Baptist.

Gospel Guffaws

'The Bible' gets a trim job at City Lights

By Marianne Messina

AT CITY LIGHTS' opening-night performance of The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged), the first half of the Good Book wandered rather blandly in the wilderness. Somewhere between waste and void, I found myself asking the asymptotical question, What is the limit of variety-show shtick cannibalizing variety-show shtick cannibalizing variety-show shtick as cannibalization approaches infinity? It would seem that eventually the comical line reaches a flat line (ba-da-bing). Brace yourself; lame humor abounds in this play written by the Adam Long/Redd Martin/Austin Tichenor trio, part of whom brought us The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).

Still, there are bright moments in the first half. Take, for example, the Tower of Babel (1 and 2), with its pidgin Spanish and Japanese and with Mike Inouye playing the whore in particularly funny drag. If the babble becomes more compressed, it could be hilarious. And the Stomp! sketch offers sweet salvation from verbal humor. For this segment, the three-man cast of Derek McCaw (on pots and pans), Tom Gough (on miscellaneous percussion) and Inouye (on foot-mounted trash-can lids) have put together a catchy routine with solid rhythmical merit.

The second act is a lot funnier than the first (or maybe by then you're just conditioned to expect the expected). It's at this point that the local humor--jokes about Gray Davis, our current governator and even the Golden State Warriors--starts to feel like insider camaraderie. The Noah's Ark sketch takes this warm feeling up a notch as the audience participates (perforce) and The Bible begins to win converts. There's a barely two-week-old topical reference to the Massachusetts legislature when "two dykes--uh, ducks" are introduced to Noah's Ark, which suggests the script has been evolving down to the wire.

The play's endless props, costume changes and sight gags undoubtedly require meticulous coordination on the part of stage manager Michelle Sams. The talking head of John the Baptist (Gough) on a platter, the levitation, the magic tricks (posing as miracles) are all technical feats--and pretty funny, with the odd need for a bit more tweaking. And the Last Supper's cutout heads with Inouye running frantically from saint to saint to do the talking parts is very nearly in the pocket.

All in all, it's a rather ruthless lineup for three actors on a spacious stage. Set designer Gabriel Campbell wisely chose to cut out some of the visible area with monastic walls. But he could have cut out a lot more to pick up the pacing and trim off time spent navigating the stage, because this play can brook no dead spots. In fact, with its 1-to-5 ratio of hits to duds among the aging gags and plays on baby-boomer music trivia, The Bible needs the antics to overlap like a three-ring circus. City Lights will no doubt continue to oil its machinery on this one. Nevertheless, whether it's McCaw's Elvis (which rose above the hackneyed) or Gough's winky, Chevy Chase kind of delivery or the good-sport way Inouye dunks himself in one campy role after another, this production does eventually leave you with a kind of funny-fuzzy-friendly feeling.

The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged), a City Lights Theater Company production, plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm through Dec. 27 at City Lights, 529 S. Second St., San Jose. Tickets are $15-$28. (408.295.4200 or www.cltc.org)

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From the November 27-December 3, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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