Some have taken issue with my roasting of the Globe's hapless reviewer, Katie Johnston Chase, for her gormless review of "Jesus: The Guantanamo Years," (starring Abie Philbin Bowman, at left) when I hadn't even seen the show. My points in that article, however, were essentially independent of the show's particulars; they were, instead, a pointed critique of the Globe arts pages' spineless pop mindset.
Now, however, I've seen Bowman for myself - and needless to say, Chase looks worse than ever. Not only does she come off as an apolitical wuss, she even gets the performance wrong. Of course, Chase wasn't alone - one of the few Boston reviewers (so far) to take on the show, she was pretty much in line with this vapid (and unsigned) Metro take:
The problem . . . is that once Jesus enters Guantanamo Bay he gets lost and a preachy 26-year-old Dubliner filled with political idealism and a hefty dose of anti-American sentiment takes over . . . Seasoned comics have only recently begun to broach the subject of 9/11 and even then it’s done very carefully. But a still-wet-behind-the-ears idealist dressed as Jesus Christ preaching that Christians should just “turn the other cheek” might still be a bit much to handle, especially if it’s being billed as comedy . . .
Sigh. As with Chase, the Metro reviewer simply abandons Bowman's performance and themes - indeed distorts them - to obediently whip up the propaganda he/she believes some imaginary audience/editor wants to hear. It's too bad these two weren't around to do PR for Leni Riefenstahl - they would have rocked!
For believe it or not, the actual problem with Jesus: The Guantanamo Years is that (wait for it) - it's actually not enough of a lecture. We deserve a severe drubbing for tolerating the ongoing horror of not just Guantanamo but a whole Gulag of "black sites" in which we've been relentlessly torturing innocent people for years. Yes, before you say it, I know there are probably some real life terrrists in thar, too! But does that justify our torture of the innocent? Uh - no, "patriots," it does not. Grow a pair, would you, all you "Amurrican" cowards - we should not be shredding our Constitution, or playing the Ralph Fiennes role in Schindler's List, because we're afraid somebody might blow up a mall. Remember that part about dying to protect our liberty and the American way? Well that means sticking to our principles even after 9/11.
So given the grim low to which America has sunk, the sweet-but-feckless Abie Philbin Bowman's Jesus seems pretty lacking in the moral authority needed to get us back on track. This Jesus never would have attacked the money-changers in the temple, much less managed any coolly ironic dialogue with Pontius Pilate (or Dick Cheney); no, this Jesus is a sheepish, collegiate singer/songwriter, complete with guitar and encyclopedic knowledge of Monty Python and The Life of Brian. He is, certainly, quite funny; and his sense of the insanity of the American "War on Terror" (and indeed the ridiculousness of "Christian" political positions in general) is witty and targeted more tightly than a heat-seeking missile.
Still, once Jesus is incarcerated in Guantanamo (after all, he's a religious martyr who came out of a cave in Palestine - what did he expect?), Bowman does lose his way - but he doesn't wander off into a lecture. Instead, he treads water, trying not to alienate us as he attempts to cajole us into facing our collective evil. He still gets his laughs, but the performance meanders - it feels as if it's still in development, not in its second coming - and Jesus himself goes through no inner transformation. After all, there should be a motherlode of material here, as Jesus senses that, unlike the Romans, we have no interest in actually finishing him off. Likewise, you'd think that at this juncture - after being waterboarded, say, or being led around on a leash - Jesus might begin pondering the problem of evil, and whether his unassuming reasonableness has a chance against the vicious incompetence of the Bush administration, which is determined to not give him a chance at resurrection, but instead is bent on making him simply disappear (which, of course, is being done in his own name, a rather neat irony). Bowman likewise never delves into the nature of the other evil in Guantanamo - the real terrorists who no doubt are actually there (or are being created by our actions - does Jesus have no ministry to them?); but come to think of it, the original Jesus didn't really look into that, either.
Bowman has one great moment, when he echoes Matthew 27:46: "My God, my God - why have you forsaken me - again?" - and he devotes a few powerful minutes to explaining that "turning the other cheek" is no wimpy cop-out but rather a powerful form of engagement. But these moments soon pass, and we're back to the friendly shrugs and the pleading, fuzzy-wuzzy tone. True, "pushing the envelope" would no doubt lead to walk-outs - but then it might also have led to some genuine soul-searching, and perhaps even political transformation on the part of some (if not Katie Johnston Chase). And isn't that would Jesus would do?