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THEATER REVIEW Prophet$
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2019-06-18

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Playwright: Anthony Tournis

At: Factory Theater, 1623 W. Howard St. Tickets: TheFactoryTheater.com or 866-811-4111; $25. Runs through: July 22

Protestant Christianity's individualistic approach to its source material acknowledges a variety of interpretations, enabling virtually anybody to make a career of spreading the gospel in all its enigmatic diversity. Human nature being what it is, however, the number of self-styled proselytizers motivated by greed and hypocrisy should come as no surprise.

The 1980s, in particular, stand out in the history of our nation as the benchmark for a virulent epidemic of Tartuffian humbuggery. Promoters of "Prosperity Theology"—the belief that physical health and material wealth constitute manifestation of divine favor—addressed unseen viewers over low-cost public access television, exhorting their followers to donate vast sums of money in support of spurious evangelistic ministries, while secretly using it to subsidize their own lavish lifestyles. When exposed as frauds by the government, many of the perpetrators continued to conflate the spiritual and temporal, attributing their criminal behavior to diabolical intervention and pleading for the absolution granted penitent sinners.

So what do a bunch of clerical-collar crooks getting their comeuppance 30 years ago have to teach us in 2019? Don't we all know by now that the old-time religion is a sham and scientific secularism, the one true faith?

Fortunately, pin-dancing polemics about the route to righteousness are almost wholly absent from the parable recounted by Factory playwright Anthony Tournis, who instead employs the language of evangelism to endorse ( however briefly—this is a comedy, after all ) the universal values of honesty, kindness, respect and compassion.

Our story begins with three ( later four ) unabashed con artists looking to get rich on the largess of gullible pilgrims seeking to buy their way into heaven—a plan that runs afoul of a powerful megachurch pastor bent on protecting his own money-making swindle. In a world where everybody is self-serving, virtue lies, not in ethical intent, but in accountability. What distinguishes the "good" thieves from the bad is that the latter, when confronted by evidence of wrongdoing, feign remorse while refusing to admit their error, unlike the former, who humbly make apology and reparation.

Under the direction of Wm. Bullion, the progress of our heroes and the social commentary conveyed therein is illustrated in comic-book proportions: at one point, the corrupt Rev. Goode succumbs to full-blown Chick-tract rage, while a promo for the Church of the Prophet—as our faux amen-snorters baptize their pastorate—features tropes from the golden age of music videos, choreographed by Becca Holloway and backed by a Dag Juhlin song so period-perfect you'll look for it on youtube.com .


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