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The Theatreguide.London Review

Jermyn Street Theatre Spring 2006

This bijou theatre just off Piccadilly Circus begins a season of new productions with Larry Herold's serious comedy about religion, closeted skeletons, Texas small town politics and bath oils.

At its best when at its lightest, it gets just a bit too formulaic in its more serious moments, but not so much as to spoil the overall fun and even an unstrained moral message.

The Baptist church in a small Texas town is in need of a preacher, and much of the play's first act is devoted to the comic dealings of the search committee, which is made up of a predictable cross-section of types, except that - in one of the play's nicer touches - they keep confounding our expectations.

The woman who dresses like the town tramp turns out to be the most sincerely religious of the bunch, the trailer-trash guy is one of the more reasonable, and the two squarest-seeming members of the committee share a secret past.

A lot of the fun comes from the committee's inability to stick to the agenda, as they keep wandering off into such byways as debating whether George W. Bush qualifies as a real Texan, singing old TV theme tunes, and letting the teenage secretary practice her cosmetics sales pitch.

By the interval you've probably figured out that each of the characters you've met has a deep dark secret, and you may even have guessed some of them

Enter a Mysterious Stranger in the form of a travelling preacher with preternatural knowledge of everyone's closeted skeletons, and his trial sermon turns into a string of surprise revelations that aren't all that surprising.

The play recovers from that bit of predictability when the moral of the preacher's sermon turns out to be sound and moving theology, and when the congregation's responses surprise us in a way that makes for a very satisfying ending.

In short, then, a thoroughly enjoyable light and disarming comedy that wears its more serious intentions with only the slightest bit of discomfort.

That the cast is uniformly excellent is a tribute to director Omar F. Okai, who also manoeuvres the play through its shifts in tone with hardly a gear grinding.

Basienka Blake is touching as the sincerely devout sexpot, Julie Rogers endearingly ditzy as the airheaded teenager, and Robert Godfrey enigmatic and charismatic as the preacher.

Michael Fitzpatrick as the chairman, Gina Rowland as a businesswoman and Glenn Wrage as the ne'er-do-well all flesh out their more-complex-than-they-seem characters engagingly.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Preacherosity - Jermyn Street Theatre 2006


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