It was no accident that the Shakespeare Society decided to open a play on Christmas Eve, a night when theaters are often dark. For the show, at the Society's Globe Playhouse, is "The Gospel of John the Apostle," dramatized and spoken by actor Joseph P. Burns. It closes tonight.
"J. P. has memorized the full 21 chapters and 4,000 words," said Globe co-founder R. Thad Taylor, who directed. Burns follows in the footsteps of Alec McCowen and other actors who performed "The Gospel According to St. Mark."
Taylor contends that Shakespeare and his fellow Elizabethan dramatists helped shape the prose and structural quality of the 1611 King James Bible. "We know of Shakespeare's tremendous influence on the English language and of the Bible's influence on our lives. So you tie the two of them together, and it's quite a combination."
Taylor hopes to present the "The Gospel" again at Easter, and also tour churches and schools throughout the country.
"The church-going public is interested in this kind of thing," he said. "This is a way to use the great literary influence Shakespeare left us in a spiritual way: for a tighter brotherhood, to bring us closer together--especially at this time of year. And it's amazing to see that beautiful poetry and phraseology come to life on stage. Did you know that God is mentioned over 1,000 times in Shakespeare's plays? That's more times than he's mentioned in the Bible."
CRITICAL CROSSFIRE: Reuben Gonzalez's new drama "The Boiler Room" recently opened at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre.
Said The Times' Sylvie Drake: "Ever since the early 1970s, one has hoped for the advent of a real Latino playwright. 'Boiler Room' sends strong signals that one has arrived. This self-admitted junior high school dropout from Spanish Harlem (with a degree from Fordham) has written a lusty, tough-talking, wickedly penetrating account of growing up in a Spanish Harlem basement. It's a claustrophobic place shared by young Anthony (Juan del Castillo Jr.), his mother Olga (Karmin Murcelo) and an ominous boiler that makes its own statement (coal dust) and its own relentless demands."
However, Jan Breslauer, in the Herald Examiner, found it"dreadfully sentimental and pedestrian session, much longer than an analyst's 50-minute hour. Gonzalez is not the first playwright to fall victim to the autobiographical impulse. But unlike many, he feels no compulsion to embellish his own grim experience in order to make it dramatic . So flagrant is his negligence that we're left with the impression that Gonzalez must be his own best audience."
Bill Hagen of the San Diego Tribune issued a thumbs-up: "Gonzalez skillfully but never cloyingly enlists sympathy, even affection, for this resilient family, even when vices outweigh virtues. And few directors are as adept as Noel at, among other things, giving characters room to develop. Murcelo is spellbinding . . . ."
Anne Marie Welsh of the San Diego Union thought Murcelo was virtually the whole show: "Heat in 'The Boiler Room' flares from one inexhaustible source: actress Karmin Murcelo. . . . Gonzalez's play, however, is too structurally weak to support her fully, let alone make sense of her. It's almost as if the playwright is still too much in awe of this character to really see beyond her surface. . . . As it stands now, 'The Boiler Room' vacillates between photographic realism, television comedy, the eruptive surrealistic drama of Sam Shepard and some groaningly patriotic pageant based on belief in the power of the American dream."
But D. Larry Steckling, in Drama-Logue, was captivated: "Directed with compassion and a sure sense of theatrical realism by Craig Noel, the cast is exemplary. . . . Drawing from his childhood in Spanish Harlem, (Gonzalez) has given us a searing account of the degradation of poverty, as well as some cogent commentary on mothers and our relationship to them in our society."