One-man show questions evangelical views
By KAREN SHADE, 8/13/2007
If ever anyone wondered how much drama could be had in a one-man show, they have only to sit in on Justin McKean's "Born Again Yesterday" playing at the Nightingale Theater.
In Tulsa, original theater in summer is often a squeaky, narrow seat (if you're a bit robust) and 90-plus degrees in the absence of natural light. But they're worth it for a look at this poignant and often funny look at the emotional ordeal of losing faith.
As with the show's brief run in May, "Born Again Yesterday" opens on a simple confession.
"Hello, my name is John, and I'm a fundamentalist. It has been one week since I last judged someone fit for eternal damnation."
Through with booths, altars and pulpits, McKean confesses his anger and angst on a stage through "John" and several other personas to relate his life borne out of a fundamental interpretation of the Bible as a guide to living. But if anything becomes clear during the two hours spent watching him rip pages from the Bible or pace the Nightingale stage, it is that McKean appears to be still curious of this outcome himself, and that makes it interesting for us.
Yes, alternately annoyed, incensed and saddened by his experience, McKean is also, indeed, fascinated as he tries to understand it himself. The thought crosses your mind that he will be dealing with this subject for a long time.
McKean starts off as John, a "recovering" fundamentalist Christian, who has taken up with the side of logic and science in his view of the world. Feeling lied to by the church about love, sex, joy, choice and, basically, everything, John remains guilty and cautious. Despite the newfound resentment burbling inside, he is conflicted about leaving an institution that provided a purpose in his life for such a long time.
Between John's periodic progress reports, McKean gives us evangelicals on a mission to aggressively recruit and judge (what he calls "bold Christians"); Bible study teachers doing an editing job on nonconforming scriptures; a Rush Limbaugh-type, who pontificates over the airwaves; and a valley-speak Jesus, who (when he appears at all) is a mirror image of John.
But McKean also uses "Born Again Yesterday" to show fundamentalism bleeding over into government, supporting the political machine.
Through each scene, McKean displays a deftness for portraying different characters through voice and action that separates one from the other. Only a few times was it unclear where he was heading, but the play itself shows improvement since its first run.
Most intriguing to this personal revelation in disguise is that "Born Again Yesterday" makes the most of a pleasant side-effect, which its author hints was not possible while he willingly followed his church -- his voice.
"What is the purpose of Christianity?" one of his characters asks and then answers: To convert. Blunt.
But for all the soured feelings that can arise from having a Bible, a concordance and a curious mind at hand, "Born Again Yesterday" doesn't direct its outrage so much at the Bible itself as to those who would make themselves an authority of it and tell others how they should believe and live.
Even by the end, John cannot part with his biblical reference collection, like old family photos of dead loved ones, he says. And it just feels wrong to lay the good book aside despite the growing voice inside that no longer believes it.
How much of "John" is actually the author? You can never be certain unless you ask, but if the failed relationships, distance from family, guilt and a sharp sense of betrayal are anywhere close, McKean is boldly laying out a lot of himself for the perusal of strangers. The power of his conviction to share this experience makes it notable.
Whether you agree with McKean's view of evangelism or not, "Born Again Yesterday" is an affecting account clearly coming from a deeply and painfully considered spot vulnerable to those who could do more than protest.
By play's end, "John" becomes "Justin" in a personal appeal to the audience to talk openly about the religion and its place in society and government.
"I don't want to get preachy ... too late," he says.
This play contains mature language and is for a mature audience.
"Born Again Yesterday" continues 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25 and Sept. 1 at the Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St. Tickets are $8 and available by calling 633-8666.