Down in Old Fairhaven, where beats the heart of Bellingham culture, there’s a little fenced park known as the Fairhaven Green. Raised above the surrounding street and edged by glass-roofed patios, the Green boasts a perfectly-kept square of grass with a concrete stage-platform at one end. The stage abuts an old building with a giant white screen, set up for the local bands and popular movies they show down there every Saturday night in summer.
Last Thursday night, the Western Washington University theater guild took over the stage for their next-to-last production of Godspell. We saw it—Brandon and I—sitting on one of my old blankets on the grass, just one row back from the front. I had never seen the play. Now, I can tell you all that it’s one of those that sticks in your mind and just gets better as you think on it.
The little troupe of ten actors, four musicians, and a few techs, knew their craft. Godspell combines so many different theatrical styles that it can’t be easy to perform, but the gifted, wildly-costumed cast made it enthusiastic, vibrant—truly alive.
To add to that, I loved the music—everything from the comical, tap-danced “All For the Best”, to the Episcopal hymn lyric “We Beseech Thee”, to the hauntingly lovely “By My Side.”
For anyone who hasn’t seen it (and you should), Godspell basically tells the Gospel story in an offbeat, urban, 70’s musical setting. Apparently props, stage and costumes can be customized from one production to the next; this guild performed against a tie-dye-painted wall, wearing an assortment of outlandishly random clothes, and throwing empty soda cans and water bottles at each other during the “Tower of Babble” act.
Nine of the actors (everyone but Jesus) took on multiple roles—for instance, the same guy played John the Baptist and Judas—and the first half of the show moved through a rapid, uptempo progression of parables, teachings, and events. It was often downright hilarious, with ten comedians running up and down the aisle and all over the stage, interacting playfully with each other and the audience. The second half sobered down gradually, culminating naturally in the death and resurrection of Christ (hope I didn’t just spoil the story for anyone :-P )
As to the power of telling a well-known story in a new and creative way—let’s just say that for me, watching, it stripped out all of the excess baggage attached to Christianity by the difficulties of life, by the church's legalism, by the world’s mocking cynicism, and left me with Christ.
My favorite part: when Jesus looked into the eyes of the woman caught in adultery, put his hands on her shoulders, and said “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and do not sin again.” He started to walk away, but turned back to her with a smile and took her hand as she sang him these words:
“Where are you going?
Where are you going?
Can you take me with you?
For my hand is cold
And needs warmth
Where are you going?
Far beyond where the horizon lies
Where the horizon lies
And the land sinks into mellow blueness
Oh please, take me with you…”
“…Then I'll take your hand
That you are here
By my side”