Embellishing for the Big Apple
I had my first phone interview with a real, live New York theater critic today.My one-man show, “Jesus in Montana: Adventures in a Doomsday Cult,” has been accepted in the New York International Fringe Festival, so in just a few days I’m off to New York to brave the critics.And if my first interview was any indication, something is going to have to change.My show is about my experience in a cult in the early ’90s. It is the true story of hitchhiking to Montana to meet, and eventually hang out with, a man who claimed to be the return of Jesus. I won’t tell you whether or not he WAS Jesus, because that would give away the ending. But in retrospect I tend that think that this experience, which I did in all earnestness (not just to write a play about), was a bit bizarre.And I told the critic as much when he called.CRITIC: (deadpan) So, what’s your show about?ME: (gushing with enthusiasm) In the ’90s I hitched to Montana to be part of a bizarre religious cult. We believed Jesus had returned and was living up there.CRITIC: Can you expound on that?ME: Uhhh … sure. Which part?CRITIC: The bizarre part.ME: Um, OK. Well, we were waiting for the apocalypse. Looking forward to it, in fact. That’s what this Jesus guy was telling us was going to happen. We thought the apocalypse would be a good, good thing. We had it penciled in on our calendars with a happy face next to it.CRITIC: And what was bizarre?At this point I was convinced that this was a prank call. I expected the “critic” to suddenly drop his voice and say, “Ha! Sucker! It’s me! Your cousin!”I mean, is my story not bizarre? Am I living such a naive existence that I think hitchhiking to Montana to meet Jesus (because you have his address) is bizarre, when in fact it is run-of-the-mill?Probably so.If you live in N.Y.Now I’ve only been to N.Y. a few times, but that’s all it took to realize that it’s about as different from my life in Aspen as you can get without entering an actual war zone or traveling to a distant planet. I pictured this critic sitting next to his office window, looking down on the street, where he sees no fewer than three people claiming to be Jesus.One of them is on roller skates. Not roller blades, roller SKATES. Another of these Jesuses (Jesui?) is a transvestite dressed as the Statue of Liberty – she is holding a giant sparkler and has nearly a dozen followers trailing behind her. The third Jesus, the critic realizes, is actually his receptionist, down on the sidewalk trying to convert people during his lunch break.Up until now I thought that the best part about my story is that it’s true, but I realize that if I’m going to stand out in the Big Apple, I’ll have to start embellishing a bit.CRITIC: And what was bizarre?ME: What was bizarre is that this person claiming to be Jesus was nota person at all, but a wombat. A wombat named “Theodore.” He was allowed to roam freely throughout the compound, and the people believed that if he bit them, which he often did, that they were among the chosen. Soon everyone had been bitten, so it became all about how many times you had been bitten. And where. It was like some hierarchy of rabies. Seriously, that really happened.CRITIC: (distracted) Uh huh. And how did you develop your play?ME: I removed my own appendix while rescuing a runaway stage coach. I didn’t even have a knife – I used a refried bean can lid to make the incision. I can show you the X-rays.CRITIC: (bored) Why Jesus?ME: My father was a werewolf, so we moved around a lot. Following the herd, basically. No kidding.CRITIC: (yawning) Well, that’s probably all I need. Anything final you’d like to add?ME: I have the ability to travel back and forth through time. Read more about Barry’s one-man show at http://www.jesusinmontana.comBarry Smith’s column runs in The Aspen Times on Mondays. His e-mail address is barry@Irrelativity.com, and his very own Web page is at http://www.Irrelativity.com
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