A Beginner's Guide to Deicide
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 2, 2005
A Beginner's Guide to Deicide, the new show from the folks at Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company, is a kind of experiment in studied irreverence. The first half is hilarious. Even before the show starts, writer/directors Qui Nguyen and Robert Ross Parker are exploding assumptions with parodic glee: there's a screen (made out of what look to be white bedsheets) on which are projected slides just like the ones you see at the cineplex these days—ads for soda interspersed among annoying trivia questions and cutesy fun facts. Only these are ever so slightly different, ranging from tidbits about Nietzsche and vampires to a sly anti-credit for Actors Equity.
The lights come down, and a guy named Bob Moran, whose exact function or reason for being here is never remotely explained, narrates some pre-show "warnings." Shortly after this, the play proper begins, in the midst (so it appears) of a scene between a teenage parochial school student named Lucy and a Pope. The title and the advertising blurbs have already clued us in on Lucy's objective—she's decided to kill God, for no clearer reason (at the moment) than that she's dissatisfied with how He's done His job. The Pope, naturally, is opposed. It's not long before they've launched into one of Vampire Cowboys' signature fight sequences, with the girl wielding a sword and the Pope wielding an official-looking staff.
So much for taboos, thought I, especially in light of the very recent passing of Pope John Paul II. Nguyen and Parker at their best have the fearless, take-no-prisoners bravura of early Monty Python; the fundamental ridiculousness of what's going on in a scene like this mitigates anxieties about offensiveness.
And so Deicide continues merrily on. Lucy, abetted by her friend (sister?) Mary (aka Skeeter), time travels to the study of Charles Darwin for a consultation; he advises her (whilst tied to a chair; she's a tad bit aggressive) to travel all the way to the beginning of time, reasoning that as God is the creation of Man, it's necessary to prefigure Man in order to destroy God. A montage of Lucy's backward journey follows, featuring quick over-the-top and off-the-wall bits with the likes of Nietzsche, Dante, Joan of Arc, and many others. Eventually she arrives in Galilee where she meets Jesus (who is played by a puppet; see accompanying photo). And the play—unexpectedly and, for me, unaccountably—starts to turn serious.
After about an hour of twitting, well, everything, our playwrights decide to take their subject at face value. Gone are the broad jokes, intellectual puns, and silly gags; as Lucy confronts first Jesus and then God Himself—and is revealed to be Lucifer—the play's essential nature turns metaphysical and then spiritual. Nguyen and Parker don't have time, in the final twenty minutes of this show, to mount anything other than the most peremptory investigation into God's existence and why/how people believe in it. So the piece ends unsatisfactorily: the denouement is fuzzy and unilluminating, and—after all the silliness that's come before—we're not at all prepared for it.
But apart from the truly strange twist at the end, the journey here is mostly great fun. The inventiveness and wit of its creators are nicely showcased in each of Lucy's bizarre adventures, in the surprise intermission film, and in the many segments involving the pair of masked "vampire cowboys" who figure in most of the transitions between scenes. Nguyen's fight choreography is as exciting and unusual as ever, and performed impressively by Christian T. Chan and Tom Myers (the "vampire cowboys") and Andrea Marie Smith, the athletic actress who plays Lucy. Caitlyn Darr plays the slightly nerdy Mary/Skeeter. Dan Deming, in a variety of silly costumes designed by Jessica Wegener, steals just about every scene he's in as all of Lucy's nemeses, from Darwin to Dante to Joan of Arc to God Himself.
The impulses behind A Beginners Guide to Deicide—which I judge to be equal parts bad boy clowning, nervy curiosity, and just plain nerve—are all to be commended; few playwrights could dream up a heretical, post-modern stew of a show like this one. I wish the payoff here were more satisfying. I'm nevertheless eager to partake of whatever crazy concoction the Vampire Cowboys offer us next time around.