The Jesus Factor
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 9, 2008
Brian Dysktra is angry.
That's the obvious way to start this review; to start the review of any play he's written and particularly of one of his one-man rant/shows. But The Jesus Factor, Dykstra's current solo work, isn't just a diatribe-disguised-as-a-comedy-act to make American liberals/blue-staters laugh and cheer. It is, in fact, a smart and considered call to action, coming at us in a year when we get to act, by voting carefully and thoughtfully for our next President, and for a new Congress and a third of the Senate. As far as I'm concerned, it ought to be compulsory viewing for conscientious citizens of any party, because its central message—that we must take our responsibility as an informed electorate VERY SERIOUSLY—is so fundamental yet apparently so frequently forgotten.
Now, before I create the impression that The Jesus Factor is a lecture rather than an entertainment, let me note that this show, which is smoothly directed by Margarett Perry, is engaging in every sense of the word. Particularly if you generally agree with Dykstra's politics, you'll have a good time as he attacks, berates, caricatures, deconstructs—continue the list right on through z)—the fat and comfortable status quo of post-9/11 American politics and culture. The structure of the show resembles a long standup comedy set, but there's a dramatic arc to the piece that's defined by about half-a-dozen slam poems that anchor his carefully worked-out argument. The poems are impressive and Dykstra performs them at rat-a-tat speed, making their words and rhythms pierce and explode like machine-gun bullets. The rest of the material consists of some wry anecdotes, some mordant observations, and lots of stuff drawn from a variety of first-hand sources, notably the Bible and a dictionary. Dykstra tells us that in order to keep "them" from getting away with half-truths (like a recent one that he came across, a claim on TV that Thomas Jefferson didn't really advocate separation of church and state), we need to arm ourselves with the facts.
There's an audience participation section in the middle of the show where you can shout out, along with Dykstra, the mantra "Fuck Texas!" while he goes through a litany of reasons for thinking such a thought.
There's a very funny bit about why our current President should believe in the theory of evolution (it involves the suggestion that he simply look in a mirror).
And there's an enormously effective segment—probably my favorite in the show—in which Dykstra simply reads from a very very long list of the lies and half-truths and Orwellian doubletalk/doublethink miscommunications that have been perpetrated by the current administration without, so far, much in the way of lasting consequence. He calls it their "greatest hits"; its cumulative effect is pretty powerful.
The challenge is to do in our own lives at least as much as Dykstra is doing in his: talking honestly and forthrightly about how we feel about the state of our country and our world. Maybe the theatre is an unlikely place to do such a thing in 2008, but why not here; and if not here, then where? The Jesus Factor, which gets its title from Dykstra's concern that the religious right has usurped Christianity for a cause that Jesus very likely would not have espoused (he asks, for example, whether Jesus would ever have held up a sign that says "God Hates Fags"), is finally not about one particular political group but rather the continued apathy and anomie that lets any such a group hold the principles of American democracy hostage. Give Dysktra an hour and a half of your time and hear him out, and then draw your own conclusions.