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Busted Jesus Comix

The facts of a 1990s court case from Florida serve as the basis for David Johnston's "Busted Jesus Comix," a dark, sometimes disturbing, often hilarious satire reminiscent of plays by Joe Orton and Dario Fo.

The details of the case and its ramifications unfurl in a wild kaleidoscope of action as 19-year-old Marco interviews for a job at a Starbucks-like coffee chain in Manhattan. While the store's earnest and ultimately empathetic manager (R. Jane Casserly) conducts the interview, Marco's mind spirals to past events.

An overly zealous and smug prosecuting attorney (David Lapkin) appears, describing the obscene comic book that Marco created and sold at the store where he worked. Marco's hard-nosed, none-too-understanding attorney (Tracey Gilbert) floats into the action, detailing the terms of Marco's probation: He may not draw; his home is subject to search, sans warrant, at any time; and he must undergo three years of counseling with a therapist who believes that Marco's homosexuality can be cured.

While the two attorneys' appearances lead to amusing non sequiturs, Marco's sessions with the smarmy, arrogant behaviorist (John Koprowski) anger. Appearances by two right-wing community leaders and scenes from Marco's comic book make "Comix" eerily surreal. (Paul Caiola and Joseph C. Yeargain play both the Christian ladies and the drugged-out slackers with comic panache.)

Gary Shrader's staging (aided by Evan O'Brient's shrewd lighting design) allows for the temporal shifts in Johnston's script to occur with lucidity. The audience comes to understand that Marco's comic book was autobiographical and that the acts the court viewed as obscene -- principally, the sexual abuse of a preteen -- were perpetrated against him.

At the center of this haunting tale is Vince Gatton's thoroughly winning portrayal of Marco, a hero in a world seemingly turned upside down that actually, sadly, all too bizarrely mirrors reality.

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