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Captain of the Bible Quiz Team (Rogue Machine)



 
Rogue Machine Theatre has entered a new kind of artistic out-reach:  taking a specific type of play (in this case, religious/sexual), “Captain of the Bible Quiz Team” by veteran playwright Tom Jacobson, and have booked three church-sites, with four actors (one white male, one black male, one white female and one black female) sharing the sole character at each site at different performances.  Michael Michetti has directed with his usual savvy and insightful flair. 

The first presentation was at a West Los Angeles Lutheran Church and the first actor up was Mark Jacobson (temporary) Pastor Landry Sorenson, a late-twenty-something in his (or her) first pastoral job, and the reason Sorenson has gotten this position at this small and failing rural church, in Little Sauk, Minnesota, is that the current pastor, now on sick-leave, is father of the not quite ordained Landry.

Over a period of six religious holidays (Christmas Eve to Easter Sunday), with Pastor Sorenson the Younger changing the outer garment that signifies the solemnity of the occasion (including Epiphany, Baptism of our Lord, Ash Wednesday, and Maundy Thursday), rituals most-likely unknown to non-Lutherans, during which we learn his/her story.

In each of these sermons, Landry opens up to the congregation about the schism between the elder Sorenson and his off-spring, mostly over Landry’s openness about his bi-sexuality.  This, of course, then further opens up the on-going schism between the parent Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and the small Minnesota church over the idea of normalizing pastors who are LGBTQ, allowing them full-access to presiding over Lutheran congregations.

Well, this tiny church will have none of it, and as Landry’s father slowly sinks into eternity, week by week, the younger Sorenson must deal with the rejection given from the dying father and the further rejection from the father’s congregation. 

But not total rejection, as it turns out.  In a clever theatrical devise, over the weeks, Landry calls on individual members to stand and be acknowledged for their contributions to this particular religious home for themselves, all of whom are members of the audience asked to sing the chosen hymn of the week (none of which did any of my audience know), all led by a terrific organist, Barbara Browning, who performs at each of the three churches.

It’s an ambitious idea which hasn’t quite jelled, with each “date” allowing for further information on the health and final demise of their old pastor, as well as the financial health of their church (which is doomed to disappear); and the on-going split between the Mother Church (located in Chicago, Illinois) and the individual “chapters” over the idea of queer ministries. 

This is an on-going fight that won’t be resolved anytime soon, so while Jacobson’s idea has merit, he hasn’t helped himself with the six episodes, as it were, of his plot, in under 90-minutes.  It might have come off better – conceivably – if it were one intermissionless play, in which the fight Landry has with his dwindling congregation might take on more urgency, especially since each separate holiday isn’t mentioned, adding confusion as to what holiday we’re in. As it is, the play works well-enough, depending, natch, on having a “congregation” large enough to pick up on the jokes within.

The actor, Mark Jacobson, certainly kept his character in tow, making us care about his emotional and intellectual plight as best we could.  It will be fascinating to watch how the other actors play out the writer’s idea, especially with the two women and a male-of-color presumably playing the script out – in which Landry’s Norwegian background will have to look different with each actor playing it out in their different shades and shapes.  The other three actors are:  Amielynn Abellera, Wayne Tyrone Carr and Deborah Puette.

The title, by the way, is one of Landry Sorenson’s reasons for taking up this new career: he was, in high school, a winning debater while Captain of the Bible Quiz Team.  And here he is able to show off all the knowledge in his fight against the reactionaries’ take against LGBTQ ministers, as well as individual members of the congregation. 

It’s a valiant experiment, worth our time and efforts to watch and participate in, and it may very well fit your expectations.

The performance times for the next two churches can be found at 855.585.5185 or at www.captanofthebiblequizteam.com.  For the record they are: St Matthew’s Lutheran/North Hollywood, Sept 10th through 19th; and Hollywood Lutheran Church in Los Angeles, Sept 24th through October 3rd, 2016