Les Freres Corbusier
at New York Theatre Workshop
Les Freres Corbusier, the artsy pranksters of New York's downtown theatre scene, has brought back its 2003 Obie Award–winning musical, A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant, which explains why the children gathered on the stage of New York Theatre Workshop aren't dressed as shepherds or the Virgin Mary; they're busy playing Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes instead.
Giving Jesus Christ Superstar a postmodern run for its money, Scientology conflates the story of the nativity with the life of L. Ron Hubbard. Director Alex Timbers enlists a prepubescent cast to act out the life of the Church of Scientology's founder with deliciously subversive irony in a show that's part children's pageant play, part infomercial. Rising from a humble birth in a manger, Hubbard travels the globe, studying physics and penning science-fiction novels until finally discovering the power of Scientology, making quite a bit of money throughout it all.
Aided by Timbers' delightfully derivative choreography and Kyle Jarrow's trippy, electro-blippy score (imagine Philip Glass wrestling the Human League for control of a Casio keyboard), Scientology skillfully employs campy kiddy pageantry to criticize the church's more questionable practices. Clad in kitschy tunics that could be straight out of the Logan's Run wardrobe department, the cherubic cast members sing about Dianetics, e-meters (using stick puppets as a teaching aide), and the ancient galactic ruler Xenu with all the vigor of a time-share sales pitch. But there's also a disturbing innocence to all this indoctrination—after all, these are just kids doing what they're told—hinting at the manipulative power the Church of Scientology allegedly holds over some of its followers.
With a running time of just one hour, the show avoids the very real danger of driving its concept into the ground. Sure, it's a gimmick—but, as a pleasant surprise, Les Freres Corbusier plumbs it for as much depth as it possibly can.
> Presented by and at New York Theatre
> 83 E. Fourth St., NYC.
> Dec. 10–Jan. 7. Wed. and Thu., 7 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 7 and 9 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.
> (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250
> Casting by Stephanie Klapper.
Reviewed by Paul Menard