There is a theory that in Jesus’ “lost years” (those unaccounted for in the Bible when he was between the ages of 12 and 30) Jesus might have spent time in India. Playwright Lloyd Suh takes that “what if” and gleefully runs with it. In his play, Jesus in India, a contemporary teen Jesus runs away from home on an admirably high-end camel. In the desert he ditches his hometown, pseudo-girlfriend Abigail. Then he makes a new best friend in a guy named Gopal who plays drums and grows amazing weed. It turns out that Gopal is best friends with the local Maharaja, Sushil, whom he plays with in an incomplete, unnamed punk band. Jesus agrees to learn bass (as a deity he picks up everything quickly) and the band decides to tour. Meanwhile he falls in love with a slave girl, learns he’s a natural front-man, and his hometown of Galilee explodes in war.
The show is really fun. There are lots of bratty teenage fights and high-on-weed revelations. The punk music is played with great, silly, gusto. Abigail “cusses like a pagan” and gets admonished by Mother Mary in a hallucination to clean up her language because it makes her seem “trashy”. Also, between “dude” and enthusiastic expletives, characters tend to launch at random into text-book-correct explanations like “Buddhism is a nontheistic practice that emphasizes a collective oneness of consciousness and a belief in a circle of life and suffering that can only be transcended through enlightenment, which is attained through a deeply individual and personal inward journey of meditative ascetisism and holistic peace.” This contrast provides humor and there was a lot of laughter during the performance.
The challenge of the play is that it begins with such deliciously caffeinated energy and then calms down considerably which is a bit of a letdown. Time passes, Jesus matures, and finds peace as he figures out what he thinks he should do with his life. It’s a completely valid turn since coming of age stories, by definition, have to involve growing up. But it felt a little like the play deflated halfway through because the energy changed so completely. That being said, I never lost interest and there were some beautiful moments.
I also admired how director Daniella Topol embraced all the tempo changes of the script, without trying to fit the play into a neater box. The stupid high scenes went really far in their languid silliness. The rock scenes went all-out stadium-sized. And the scenes about love got all the tender stillness they deserved. The pacing of the play in general was also very tight and satisfying.
The small cast is great across the board. I particularly enjoyed Neimah Djourabchi’s portrayal of the raging, arrogant rock-star Maharaja. I also loved Justin Blanchard’s Jesus who managed to be completely charming while bringing a complexity of emotional layers to his teen-heart-throb Messiah.
Jesus in India is a really good time. And luckily, it’s playing in midtown so traveling by camel is not required.