Busted Jesus Comix

Remaining Performances:
Sunday, July 20 @ Noon; Wednesday, July 23 @ 6:30 PM
Saturday, July 26 @ 8:00 PM; Sunday, July 27 @ 4:30 PM

They say: “At nineteen, Marco’s been convicted of obscenity . . . for publishing his homemade comic book. Starting fresh in New York, a chance meeting will expose his past and change his life. A comedy about art, sex, the drive to create and the power of friendship. Based on real events.”

Brett’s take: I attended the show with some friends of the lead actor in this play, and on the Metro afterwards the actor talked about a discussion the cast & crew had over whether it categorizes as a comedy or a tragedy. He said tragedy; most of the cast said comedy. For my part, every time I think I’ve settled on an accurate descriptor – dark comedy, satirical drama, confessional romp – it seems inadequate.

Be sure, however, that if the title and blurb lead you to thinking that this is juvenile, you’re wrong. Without revealing too much detail, suffice to say that at its heart it explores the emotional fallout of tragic and horrific events. That the dramatic arc of this fallout is portrayed alongside some seriously obscene comic-book sequences is what makes it so difficult to pin down.

“Comix” is written by David Johnston, whose impressive resume takes up a quarter page in the program in small type. The cast and crew also boast serious talent. Director Ryan S. Taylor has worked with Rorschach, Solas Nua and Forum. In lesser hands, this material could well be unbearable; but here, even a fairly standard satirical depiction of a pompous and conservative behavioral psychologist (Aidan Hughes) comes out fully flesh-and-blood, if not necessarily three-dimensional.

Again not wanting to reveal too much, but for the plot: Marco, a nineteen-year-old who appears to be effectively an orphan, is charged with obscenity for the distribution of the titular hand-drawn comic, which actually has less to do with Jesus and more with the violent, drug-addled and sexual misadventures of a pair of cartoonish characters. At this point I cannot stress enough that the obscenity is not for the weak of heart or censorious of mind. But the play itself is not vulgar for vulgarity’s sake; besides, anyone who thinks that the Comix are unrealistically over-the-top has probably never seen just what lurks out there on the Internet, and the story is about just what might lead someone to such a disgusting creation. Matt Reckeweg – onstage the whole time – does a bravely honest job of depicting young Marco, who at first seems so sweet and awkward that it’s hard to believe Busted Jesus Comix came from his pen, and keeps us caring even after we may have guessed where things are going.

The play is staged with an economical theatricality – the set is a table and a few chairs. If occasionally the transitions are so fast it’s hard to keep up, it helps that the story is framed around a job interview Marco has with a manager at a coffee shop (the excellent and natural Ja’nelle A. Taylor). D. Grant Cloyd deserves special mention for utterly, and hauntingly, nailing his one scene as Marco’s born-again older brother.

Ultimately, the worst I can say about “Comix” is that its satire is sometimes flimsy and imitative. The best thing I can say about “Busted Jesus Comix” – besides that the play is often startlingly funny, a point that shouldn’t be forgotten – is that, like the best theater, it has its true themes encoded into its DNA, as opposed to forced onto it. If you choose to meet it on its own in-yer-face terms, you could have some serious food for thought; if not, you could easily dismiss it as either an exercise in vulgarity like its namesake or some kind of overblown left-wing free-speech melodrama. Either way, you’ll never look at cream cheese the same way again.

See it if: You like Kevin Smith movies.

Skip it if: You are capable of being offended, or have strong religious or conservative political feelings. This play is liberal.