And put your hands together for … Jesus Teaches Us Things, a Fringe review

Rebecca Merkley in Jesus Teaches Us Things, Dammitammy Productions. Photo supplied.

Jesus Teaches Us Things (Stage 16, Sue Paterson Theatre, Campus Saint Jean)

By Liz Nicholls,

You’ve got to hand it to Jesus. He’s more famous for his exits, right? (well, exit singular really). But the guy really knows how to make a big entrance.

“We will we will save you!” Enter Jesus, rocking in Queen-ly fashion, tossing that big hair of his, exuding showbiz charisma right down to his Crocs. The crowd, all of us Grade 2s at the Christian Bible Assembly, put our hands together. His middle initial H is for Hardcore. 

Rebecca Merkley in Jesus Teaches Us Things, Dammitammy Productions. Photo supplied

In Rebecca Merkley’s very funny, inspired show, directed by Christine Lesiak, Jesus is stepping in as substitute teacher today; Pastor Greg (Adam Keefe), with his mild-mannered pastor’s air, and tithe bucket (10 per cent, just like an agent), hopes he’ll “stay on curriculum” this time. “Awwright!” A real old-school crowd-pleaser from way back, Jesus gets the rock rolling with a couple of quick miracles (the secret is safe with me). With the promise of more to come “Awwright, I could resurrect Meat Loaf….”

Hey, new dimensions here, maybe a re-branding? Jesus has a reputation for those morose, not to say depressive, gazes (not that you blame him) — with long straight listless hair to match. Who knew that he had so much showbiz energy and sparkle? Or a sense of humour? Or that his hair had so much body? 

Merkley, who has stage pizzaz for days, along with one of those big brash vaudeville comic-type voices, is an exuberant performer. She clowns around with the audience in a good-humoured all-embracing way. Her playground in Jesus Teaches Us Things is the territory, mined for smart satire, between religion and perky elementary school teaching techniques.

We’re improvising together. Hey, we learn a campfire action song, “crack the whip, chop the tree, hit the nail.” There’s a whole theology in that. There’s arts and crafts time. And Jesus takes questions from the class. Can you explain the trinity? asks one of my classmates. A tough one; Jesus puts in a call to his dad. Merkley is funny and very quick on the uptake.  

Keefe hits exactly the right notes as the bland pastor in the beige cardigan who puts a smile of well meaning-ness on his face at will, and is just a bit behind the beat. He pops in occasionally to check up on the lively substitute teacher. Are you learning anything? he asks us, with a hint of the accusatory. “Yes Yes!” we declare. “Luke 10, verse 3!” 

It all feels kind of celebratory. Which might even be the point.   

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