- St. Mark’s Gospel
- Conceived by Alex McCowan
- Directed by Paul Takacs
- Produced by Theater Alliance
- Reviewed by Steven McKnight
If I ever see Michael Tolaydo at a party, I will make a beeline to his side because he is a brilliant storyteller. Given the opportunity to tell “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (to borrow the title of a 1965 film about the life of Jesus), he lives up to a tremendous acting challenge. If you have even the slightest interest in hearing the entire Book of Mark presented in a single performance, you should take advantage of this rare opportunity to attend Theater Alliance’s production of St. Mark’s Gospel at the H Street Playhouse.
Thirty years ago, British actor Alec McCowan conceived and performed St. Mark’s Gospel, earning a Tony nomination and touring it to venues including the White House. Michael Tolaydo was chosen to take over the show in 1979 and performed it for eighteen months. At the request of Theater Alliance, he returns to perform it once again.
I have to confess that I am normally a little hesitant to attend one-person shows. My standard glib line is that Aeschuylus had a really great idea 2500 years ago when he introduced the second actor to the stage. It is a tribute to Mr. Tolaydo’s acting skills that he can make the performance interesting and, at times, powerful.
Even though Mark is the shortest and most direct of the four gospels, the entire story of Jesus is a lot to digest in a single evening. The show is presented in a black box theatre with a limited set (a table and three chairs) and a simple lighting scheme that puts the focus squarely on the performer. Yet Mr. Tolaydo uses enough variety in his pacing, volume, inflection, and movement to keep the audience involved. It’s a master class for aspiring actors that is educational as much as it is entertaining.
Mr. Tolaydo approaches the task like a fellow telling a story that he finds fascinating. He is animated without falling prey to the trap of being histrionic. He finds distinctive ways to handle the direct dialogue, even finding welcome humor in the interactions between Jesus and the disciples and other followers.
Mr. Tolaydo has very little recollection of his initial run at the show, either in terms of the lines or his performance. He believes that this show is fuller and richer because he has developed more understanding of the emotions of the characters over the years and gives generous acknowledgement to the role of director Paul Takacs in shaping such a high-quality performance.
This production may not appeal to everyone and the evening can feel a little long at times. Yet Mr. Tolaydo’s performance is far out of the ordinary and a strong religious faith is not a prerequisite for finding this story potent and worthy of appreciation. In addition, the poetry of the King James’ version of St. Mark’s Gospel (spoken with an Elizabethan accent, as Mr. Tolaydo explains in his opening preface) is both appealing and comforting to those of us who grew up with it.
- Running Time: 1:55 (one intermission).
- When: Thru July 6. Thursday – Saturday at 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM (no show on July 4th and shows at 2 and 8 PM on July 6th).
- Where: H Street Playhouse at 1365 H Street, NE, Washington, DC.
- Tickets: $30. Call 1-866-811-4111 (toll free) or consult the website.