It takes a lot of courage—and perhaps a tad too much bravado—to present a two-night environmentally staged adaptation of the old and new testaments of the Bible in a 30-seat space in Silverlake, the traffic of Beverly Boulevard a few feet away, punctuating the hypocrisies of the Pharisees or the crucifixion of Christ. Yet if there are any two words that could define this production, they are courage and, yes, bravado.
Director Michael Nehring and his ensemble have brilliantly brought to life the stories we all know, whether we live by them, simply accept them, or think they should be considered fables along with the journey of Odysseus or the airborne antics of Peter Pan. Part One: The Creation offers a disquieting depiction of a raging, vengeful God (Søren Oliver), his subsequent transformation into a more beneficent creator coming too late for the citizens of Earth during the great flood. Plainly this guy is scary and spiteful and something of a cowboy, giving new meaning to the creation of a species—whom, he bellows, he's created in his own image. Such revelations would be hard to ignore even for us nonbelievers; for, when the floodwaters ascend in this presentation, the audience is swept away with them regardless of religious beliefs.
There are 30 chairs spaced around the room in this converted single storefront, each enveloped by white canvas covers, secured to the floor to keep observers from moving around to a place where they might disrupt Nehring's inspired 360-degree two-story staging. As Noah and his family sail off to salvation, two long strips of silky blue material are waved just above audience members' heads as actors float by in ethereal weightlessness; the effect is astoundingly simple, yet jarringly effective. Throughout the two-night cycle, which concludes in Part Two: The Passion, such ingenious inventions are continuously employed, the dozen agile and willing performers often hanging high above the stage floor from a series of intersecting metal poles and wooden catwalks.
This is a fascinating achievement, one that should have been filmed in its creative process to help comprehend how much of this was collaborative and how much was Nehring's singular idiosyncratic vision. Here, too, one might come to understand at which point courage ends and bravado takes over in the realization of this theatrical event, which is where that thin line between daring and audacity collide in this production. The performances, though uniformly sincere, are as often uneven, although several actors—in particular Darryl Ordell, who transforms from Snake to Gabriel to Jesus with equal lack of pretension—maneuver through the familiar parables without overacting. For a few of the other actors, the jury is still out, be it celestial or earthbound.
"The Mysteries," presented by Son of Semele Ensemble at Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A. Fri. (Part I) & Sat. (Part II), 8 p.m. Sun. 2 p.m. (Part I) & 7 p.m. (Part II). May 13-July 17. $20 (each part); $25 (both). (213) 351-3507.