Presented by and at La MaMa E.T.C., 74A East Fourth St., NYC, Dec. 9-19.
Italian performance artist Dario D'Ambrosi's new play, "The Pathological Passion of the Christ," which he also directs, represents his response to performing in Mel Gibson's relentlessly sadomasochistic film "The Passion of the Christ," in which D'Ambrosi portrayed a Roman soldier who persistently whips Jesus just before the crucifixion.
The latter part of this hourlong play contains a video by D'Ambrosi showing Jesus being rushed to a hospital where he will be lobotomized, which provides a stunning penultimate event to this presentation. Enriching this video is a soundtrack in which bass guitar chords are sounded slowly at regularly spaced intervals, providing this hospital scene with an overwhelming sense of solemn dread. (The music is by Pasquale Catalano and Tim Schellenbaum, with sound design by Schellenbaum.)
The play begins on a spacious empty stage with silk curtains at the rear, beautifully lit by designer DJ Potter. An a cappella chorus, heard but unseen, chants church prayers, suggesting the calm that comes with the certainty of faith.
Enter Jesus (Arthur Adair), who tells the audience, "You are the salt of the world!" As he continues talking, actors planted in the audience suddenly rise up to harass him: "I don't care about politicians!" More rudely, another shouts, "Jesus! Shut the fuck up! I don't want to hear!" Soon these actors are shouting at each other as a sense of chaos develops. Jesus finally breaks down, muttering, "Oh, brother! Oh, God!" He is quickly thrown onto a stretcher and hustled off stage. And it is just here that the video begins.
Despite the feeling that this first part employs old-fashioned agitprop strategies, the entire work feels coherent and satisfying, ending with a return to stage action and a stately iconic representation of Jesus' death in his mother's arms, providing a final restoration to order for this truly religious play.