Marvin walks into a small, messy apartment, takes off a crown of thorns, kicks off chunky sandals, and pours a glass of scotch. Before shedding layers of heavy robes, revealing a red tank top and black skirt, Marvin decides to have a smoke. He grabs an empty book of matches, then tries a broken lighter, muttering “Fuck!” under his breath. “God, I’m so overworked,” he says to his dog, Namaste. “I have my construction company, I’m trying to get my artistic career off the ground—and then there’s the whole miracle-worker thing on the weekends.”
Marvin is the chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, cross-dressing image of Jesus Christ who dominates Palace of Weariness, a new play by local writer Kerric Harvey. Technically, the show will premiere in Scotland at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which begins Aug. 13, but Harvey, 44, along with director Angela Lauria, 29, and actress Laureen Smith, 41, have opened their final dress rehearsal to a small Saturday-night audience at George Washington University’s Mitchell Hall before taking the play overseas.
Palace of Weariness has humorous moments—the protagonist debates whether to turn a bottle of Evian into wine and explains to an acupuncturist that he wants needles driven into the centers of his palms—but the overall theme is the savior’s angst as he prepares to deal with the events of Sept. 11.
The play is the first effort by Aldebaran Productions, formed this spring by locals Harvey, Lauria, and Smith with the goal of bringing Harvey’s plays to life. The three friends, who met through the theater program at George Washington University, say that they formed the company and submitted the play to Festival Fringe on a whim.
Harvey made the decision in April—and sent in an application on the very last day before the deadline. “We decided that of all of Kerric’s works, this one had to go this year,” says Lauria of the play’s timely theme. After receiving word that the play was accepted, the three friends hustled to put it together in time for the August debut.
“We all did our three parts with a lot of interaction,” says Smith. “Everything was very open,” adds Lauria. “We have a good friendship and a good working relationship. One of the other companies going to Edinburgh is 3 Girls in a Van. That’s us—but we’re three girls in a rental car.”
Palace of Weariness isn’t the only Sept. 11-themed play at Festival Fringe. “There are 10 or 11 plays dealing with Sept. 11,” says Lauria. “Out of 20,000 plays, it’s not a lot, but there is definitely a trend.” Among those presenting similarly themed plays are Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, as well as Michael Moore. “There are some big names attached to the same theme, so it’s nice to be a part of that,” says Lauria.
Among all the Sept. 11 pieces, Palace of Weariness distinguishes itself as the only play with Jesus Christ as its main character. Smith, who has been the campus minister at GW for 13 years and the associate pastor at Foggy Bottom’s Western Presbyterian Church for eight, says that she wasn’t afraid to assume the role of a Jesus with some distinctly human vices.
“One of the things that attracted me to the role is the deep humanity that Kerric brings to the character,” says Smith. “Divine figures are always seen as transcendent and untouchable, not as tangible human characters. Christianity teaches that Jesus is both divine and human, but the human element is missing sometimes.”
Both Lauria and Smith agree, however, that tinkering with such a sacred image can be intimidating. “The hardest day was the day that Laureen first showed up in the Jesus costume,” says Lauria.
“I had to wear it to get into character,” explains Smith, “but [Lauria’s] entire Catholic upbringing came back immediately.”
“I just told her, ‘I can’t direct Jesus—I can’t do this!’” says Lauria. “What are you supposed to say? ‘Jesus—you’re not doing that right?’”
“You just say ‘Jesus, go left,’” offers Smith. “‘Go left.’” —Sarah Godfrey