Rick Miller continues his solo show three-peat with Bigger Than Jesus, a show worthy of resurrection.
The theatrics of a good play and a good sermon aren’t a distant cry from each other. There’s a powerful script, a dramatic plot, an enraptured audience, a zealous performer, maybe some songs, and in the case of Bigger Than Jesus, even a few “miracles.”
Often unlike a sermon, however, the second installment in Rick Miller’s trinity of solo shows at Factory Theatre encourages its viewers to analyze their own relationship with religion—good, bad, or even if there is one at all. And that’s what makes it a really good play.
Rick Miller no longer believes that Jesus was the son of God, doesn’t go to church, and yes, he knows his mother is disappointed about this, he explains in his opening monologue. But that doesn’t mean he can’t still recall the liturgy word for word from his childhood in Sunday school. It was this fact in particular that inspired director Daniel Brooks to collaborate with Miller on this WYRD/Necessary Angel Theatre co-production exploring the pervasiveness and influence of religion—from all angles, and with none of the conceit that you would expect from a show called Bigger Than Jesus.
The play begins boldly. Miller delivers a little barbershop ditty (“Have a Little Talk with Jesus”), before jumping into a mass from The Church of Rational Thought, which explains the misguided way that the New Testament spreads hatred of the Jews—which Jesus was himself—while comparing the four gospels to the members of the Beatles (that crazy John…). Following immediately after is the bouncing, mile-a-minute Southern twang of “The Church of You,” a more stereotypical, over-the-top performance of a motivational speaker. At this point, the show seems to do little more than prey on those who pray, an obvious and overdone concept. But slowly, Miller takes the subject more and more seriously. He explores snippets of the lives of passengers on Air Jesus, rocks out with a Jesus action figure and his Disciples of Star Wars characters and a Homer Simpson Pez dispenser around the Last Supper table, and finally, donning a wig, beard, and robes, becomes Christ himself. Ridiculous, exaggerated, and comical in conception (and there are definitely laughs), there is a serious undertone to the final half of the show that leaves Miller’s true relationship with Catholicism hazy. And in deciphering his state of mind, we’re also forced to consider our own.
Miller’s solo shows are hardly “solo,” as he peppers his script with multiple characters and eases from one to the next as if he had been doing it for years (probably because, he has—Bigger Than Jesus has been touring since the early 2000s), and the multimedia elements created by designers Beth Kates and Ben Chaisson almost create another character in itself. While this was also found in his MacHomer, both Miller’s energy and charisma, and the creative use of video and projections to create onstage “miracles,” are even more elevated in this production.
However jaw-dropping the show must have been when it premiered at Factory Theatre in 2004, its second coming still has the city singing its praises. Closing this Sunday, this could be a great way to spend your day of rest and show your thanks this long weekend.