*mark (A solo performance of the Gospel of Mark)
A simple, meaningful storytelling of the Gospel According to Mark with George Drance in a repeat performance.
Originally produced at LaMama ETC in 2014, the Magis Theatre Company revives its solo performance of the Gospel of Mark entitled (wait for it) *mark, as told by Magis Artistic Director George Drance.
I love the promise of a black box theater-it leaves everything to the imagination, that of the creatives who fill it and of the audience. In the case of *mark, the room opens with only a chalk drawn ichthys symbol leading to a simple set design by Mark Tambella which contains only a few trash piles, a bench, and a chalkboard in the otherwise empty space.
Flashing lights and foreboding music begin the performance, as Drance bounds onto the stage, clad in nondescript hoodie and jeans. Thus he begins to tell the story of Jesus, from baptism to death and resurrection with nothing more than a backpack, a pickle bucket, and a piece of chalk.
As far as the story goes, there’s not much to say about this oldest gospel which comes from the #1 most widely sold book of all time, the Bible; it is as it was written – dry, repetitive, and didactic – so everything depends on how the story’s told.
Fortunately for us, “Magisian” Drance is quite the storyteller. Under the reasonably succinct direction of Jackie Lucid, he spryly moves around the space, emphasizing parables with chalk drawings and applying subtle changes to his inflection, body language, and eye contact to make the various characters distinct. Intense and playful, somber and jubilant, he makes this story engaging yet simple, without the help of costumes, scores, and songs which allow shows like Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar to thrive in the contemporary theater canon. The Magis Theater Company endeavors to share this gospel as it might have been done in older times, from start to finish and on the backs of its storytellers alone.
The production does cite the contributions of Elizabeth Swados for music, which is regularly piped into the show; some of it is reminiscent of the aforementioned JCS but overall it does successfully add to the narrative, as does the lighting design by Adrian Yuen. Drance does sing a few phrases here and there during the evening; a final verse just after Jesus’ death seems a bit antithetical to such a climax, but all told he is a pleasure to hear and watch, even for an hour and 40 minutes without an intermission.
Whether you’re a believer or not, this production provides an opportunity to either get to know the story of Jesus and the lessons he told, or to further steep one’s existing convictions in them.
*mark (through April 22, 2023)
Magis Theatre Company
Theatre 315, 315 W. 47th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.eventbrite.com/e/mark-a-solo-performance-of-the-gospel-of-mark-tickets-529507610517
Running time: one hour and 40 minutes without an intermission
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