- A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant
- By Kyle Jarrow
- Directed by Andrew Baughman
- Produced by Landless Theatre Company
- Reviewed by Tim Treanor
David Sedaris had a routine in which he played a theatre critic who passed judgment on grade-school Christmas pageants. “A cloying, preening stage presence,” he sniffed, dismissing a six-year old playing the Virgin Mary, “her performance seemed based on nothing more than an annoying proclivity toward lifting her skirt and on rare occasions opening her eyes.”
None of that for me. The Very Merry Pageant uses young kids in all of its roles, and thus effectively immunizes itself from criticism – mine or anyone else’s. You can get a pretty good sense of the show by watching the amusing video Landless has posted onDCTS in which Baughman cast himself as a Christopher Guest mockumentary-type character interspersed with scenes from the show.
Of course, the joke of it all is that these kids are celebrating the origins not of Christianity but of the mockumentary-style religion, Scientology, which embraces self-aggrandizement rather than self-sacrifice and generosity of spirit. The pageant takes place from the point of view of scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard. (“The L is for leader,” the great man’s father (Anthony Carrington) explains.) We experience L. Ron’s spiritual quests, his service in the WWII (including a highly creditable gun-and-knife fight), his work as a nuclear physicist and the successful publication of his science fiction novels. After he establishes his religion, and seeks a tax exemption for it, we witness his struggles with the IRS. Tom Cruise (Michael Bayliss), Kirstie Alley (Savannah Miller) and John Travolta (Carrington) appear on his behalf. Regrettably, playwright Jarrow did not include L. Ron’s final act, in which he lay in state post mortem while his followers waited in vain for him to rise from the dead.
Jarrow feeds this to us straight, relying on the astonishing nature of this story to provide us with all the narrative punch we need. Sometimes he is right: the play is occasionally hilarious, and, more rarely, moving, as when an out-of-work actor (Cody Boehm, who also plays Hubbard’s mother) describes the way Scientology has restored her will to live. Sometimes, however, the play is unbelievably tedious. I learned more about engrams, dianetics and the state of clear than I ever wanted to hear.
Periodically, Jarrow punctuates his story with pleasant, though not necessarily memorable, music. I do not know whether The Very Merry Pageant is a musical or a play with music, but whatever it is, it is easy listening.
I noticed a couple of things worth mentioning. Zachary Pinkham, who played L. Ron the night I saw the show, has an excellent stage presence and brought some real vitality to the show. I hope I see him again, and frequently; it would be a shame to see a kid with his skills grow up to be a lawyer or something. (Pinkham rotates with Joe Haberman in the role). Boehm has a lovely voice but it is rather thin at this point; periodically, she used a microphone, to advantage. (Except for Pinkham, all the kids would benefit from being miked). And Martece Caudle, who plays an IRS agent, is a superb dancer (as are, I understand, all IRS agents).
As this is the season of good will toward all, I recommend you see this show (at Landless’ customary $18 fee) filled with generosity and sweetness – toward Landless, toward Scientology, and toward that gaggle of kids, because, I’m not kidding, if you say one bad word about any of them, you will have 600,000 e-mails in your inbox, or worse.