Jesus is big, but so are his friends

Jesus is hard to reach. He was supposed to be available for an interview on Tuesday morning. But his cellphone was turned off.

Jesus is hard to reach.

He was supposed to be available for an interview on Tuesday morning.

But his cellphone was turned off.

After waiting more than three hours, the deadline couldn’t be pushed back any further.

The story would have to be written without Him.

Which isn’t too bad.

After all, it’s Bigger Than Jesus.

The one-man show stars Just For Laughs host Rick Miller, who also created the worldwide hit MacHomer, a retelling of Macbeth using Simpson voices.

Miller is Jesus. And he’s more than that.

He also plays an obsequious flight attendant, a Jewish academic and an evangelical southern preacher.

“It’s hilarious,” said Toronto-based co-creator and producer Daniel Brooks — he, at least, picked up the phone.

The messiah even hobnobs with George W. Bush, Darth Vader and the Tin Man during the Last Supper.

“I won’t tell you who Judas is,” said Brooks.

Despite the laughs, the production is fundamentally a tragedy.

“A major part of the story is this guy Jesus who dies a tragic death,” he said.

And it’s retold through a secular mass.

“Catholic mass is a specific way of telling the story of Jesus,” said Brooks.

“And we’ve stolen that structure and method and adapted it for our own purposes.

 “We’re looking at the Gospels as imaginative literature.”

It all started on a film set when Miller approached Brooks.

“He came to me with this idea that I thought could become a show,” said Brooks.

“It had to do with his relationship to Christianity, to Catholicism, to his mother.

“And he talked about the Catholic liturgy and how he knew it by heart, but didn’t really know what it meant — it was kind of an empty memory.

“That simple thought was, to me, the centre of the show — trying to bring the Catholic liturgy alive.”

Bigger Than Jesus begins with Miller as a Jewish academic, who speaks New Yorkese, teaching the audience the importance of storytelling and how it helped shape the legend that underlies Christianity.

He even explains how an average Jewish guy ended up at the centre of a religion that, at times, was extremely anti-Semitic.

Later, Miller transforms into a Southern-style evangelical preacher championing individuality and imagination, before becoming an obsequious flight attendant.

Flying Air Jesus, the audience gets insight into passengers’ hopes and fears through prayer-cam sequences.

Miller, of course, ultimately plays Jesus himself.

John Lennon even makes an appearance.

Throw in multimedia sequences and live video footage and the show takes on another dimension.

Catholicism is not what the show is about, said Brooks.

“But we’re adapting its texts.

“And some people have difficulty with us taking holy texts and putting them in a secular context.

“But it’s only secular if we see it like that — theatre can be transcendent.

“The main idea is to conduct a secular mass as a celebration of human divinity.”

Observant Catholics, lapsed Catholics, other Christians and those who aren’t religiously inclined all have different responses to the show, said Brooks.

In Quebec City, where there’s been a tumultuous relationship with Catholicism, people reacted differently than they did in St. John’s, which is largely Catholic, or Germany, where the mention of the Holocaust carried more weight.

“It’s a very personal show,” said Brooks.

“But for the most part, people laugh in the same places.”

Brooks, who’s won numerous awards and been nominated for the Governor General’s Award, likes to make his audiences think.

“In the past, effecting change was much more of an interest to me,” he said.

“Now I question whether that’s possible to do from a stage.

“Increasingly, I think bringing some kind of subtlety, beauty and encouraging human intelligence is something that I still think I can try to do.”

Brooks’ past productions include: Faust, a modern re-imagining of Goethe’s classic; Insomnia, about a tormented soul whose peace of mind has been obliterated by urban and moral pleasures; Possible Worlds, where it’s impossible to pin down any of the various shifting realities, and The Lorca Play, where Daniel MacIvor and seven women deconstruct and piece together Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba.

The Good Life looks at modern relationships. It revolves around Plato’s Symposium and seeks to discover whether love is the question or the answer.

The Noam Chomsky Lecture is a piece of political theatre.

Brooks is currently working on a show that ties together “two of his greatest interests — ecology and raising children.”

Using the family as a little ecosystem, the piece examines “the disaster we’re headed for and why it is so hard for us to make changes,” said Brooks.

“I think in ecological terms we’re going to have to experience a number of catastrophes before we make significant changes.

“So I’m increasingly less interested in making changes and more interested in addressing the question why it’s so difficult for us.

“The problem is, incremental change at this point is meaningless and that’s the best I can contribute to, I think.”

Bigger Than Jesus, which has won Dora Awards for best actor, best play and outstanding lighting design, is running Wednesday through Friday at the Yukon Arts Centre.

Tickets are $25 and are available at the arts centre box office and Arts Underground. Students and seniors pay $15, while Artrush passes are available for $5.

The show starts at 8 p.m.