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Theater Review: 'Jesus Hates Me'

L-R, Connor Sullivan, Dana Fares, Richard Johnson, Laurence Brown, Lisel Gorell-Getz & Charlie Gange.
Photo credit:
Ion Theatre

You know you’re in for a strange night when a woman enters the stage hauling a Jesus mannequin, remarking “Jesus blew off the cross again.”

That would be the bipolar Annie (Lisel Gorell Getz), owner of the Blood of the Lamb miniature golf course somewhere in West Texas, where holes are delineated by religious statues.

Ion theatre presents the local premiere of Wayne Lemon’s “Jesus Hates Me” through May 14 at their Hillcrest BLKBOX.

Annie’s 25-year-old son Ethan (Connor Sullivan) is itching to get out of this stifling burg and away from his crazy mother, so much so that he tells friend Trane (Laurence Brown, “the only black deputy sheriff in Texas”) that he’s taken a job at a ski resort in Colorado run by his cousin. Now all he has to do is tell Annie.

Unlike his uber-religious mom, the former high school football star thinks God is playing Whack-a-Mole with people’s lives. His evidence: he blew out a knee on the football field. The fear of more divine smiting has kept him from following through on his chance with Lizzy (Dana Fares), who owns the local bar.

Small-town Texas and its zealots of all kinds are ripe for parody, and Lemon misses few stereotypical (but funny) tricks here, but be aware that vulgarity, adult situations and religious parody are rampant.

Some of the characters are slighted in the writing, and it’s up to the actors to pull realism out of this script. The underwritten, suicidal Georgie, Lizzy’s younger brother and bartender, is one. He speaks through a voice box (don’t ask). Charlie Gange makes him intriguing and amusing.

Another is local Lothario Boone (a hilarious Richard Johnson). Dim of wit and cheated in the ethics department, he will bed any willing female.

Co-directors Glenn Paris and Claudio Raygoza get the most out of the script (with the help of this sterling cast), and Raygoza contributes a grungy set, dingy lighting and sound that seem right for the goings-on. Mary Summerday’s costumes and George Yé’s fight choreography are excellent as well.

The acting is uniformly fine. Sullivan is convincing in the trapped adult kid role. Fares’ Lizzy manages to be both amusing and poignant in her resignation.

Brown gives us a fully dimensional Trane, with well-developed survival skills in this redneck community.

But Gorell-Getz is the standout as Annie, doing the best she can but desperately fearful that Ethan will leave. Her awesome arsenal of facial expressions almost makes the script incidental.

“Jesus Hates Me” is an odd bird of a play, peopled with strange folks. Though after a while the laughs may seem like guilty pleasures, there are plenty of guffaws to be had.

The details

“Jesus Hates Me” plays through May 14, 2016 at ion theatre’s BLKBOX, 3704 Sixth Avenue in Hillcrest.

Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 4 and 8 pm

Tickets: (619) 600-5020 or www.iontheatre.com