Word Made Flesh | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Word Made Flesh 

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Word Made Flesh, Bailiwick Repertory. The pitch for this all-live, all-nude, all-Scripture revue seemed too good to be true, suggesting a superdeadpan play within a play: Michael Maher, "a Catholic lay minister and researcher in the area of homosexuality and religious education, presents this, his first script," which "draws its text from the Bible and its visuals from Michelangelo." But Word Made Flesh is exactly as advertised, making for a singularly strange experience.

Under the desperately inventive direction of Chad Eric Bergman, the cast use scarves, paint, and all manner of interpretive gestures in a valiant attempt to make the good book's essentially lyric poetry dramatic. A bigger hurdle is the dryness of the material--since the choreography often seems arbitrary, the sheer physicality of so much naked flesh tends to distract from the pedagogical abstractions of prophet and saint. Brian Annear and Ian Westerfer seem better adapted to this angel wrestling than Julia Kessler and Frank Gangarossa, but considering what they're up against, all the actors acquit themselves well.

A few of the onstage tableaux are striking--pictorial and more organically related to the text--and Maher's overall conceit, which ties spirituality to corporeality using Renaissance notions of harmony, proportion, and the architecture of the universe, isn't bad. There just doesn't seem to be much of anywhere to go with it. Maybe paintings on cathedral ceilings will never make good theater; in any case, this effort pretty much plateaus at the level of a curiosity.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert Morrison.

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